Should preliminary reports prove true, MetLife will purchase the South Building on the CIGNA campus in Bloomfield to house its 2,000 Greater Hartford employees, ensuring that the company remains in the area. That beats a move out of state.
Moreover, CIGNA expects to use revenues from the sale to MetLife to offset the cost of renovating the huge Wilde Building, also on the campus. That landmark of corporate modernism was slated for demolition only seven years ago, but wiser heads prevailed.
The bad news is that MetLife, if it moves, would be abandoning downtown Hartford and the 373,000 square feet of office space it now occupies in City Place I, thereby wiping out all recent commercial real estate gains and then some. It would also take 1,310 employees off the downtown streets, dealing a blow to the expensive efforts to revivify the city.
Hartford officials offered help to keep MetLife downtown, but said the insurer wasn't interested. "The commitment and desire to negotiate was never there," said Mayor Eddie A. Perez. MetLife elected in late January not to condition its decision on securing financial inducements from any government entity - town, city or state.
Even if the company had made such a pitch, tax relief is only one of many variables that enter into a company's determination to move. MetLife's choice apparently came down to which location presented the most accommodating space at the best price. Perhaps the primary inducement was the potential for providing free parking to the company's employees.
Indeed, parking is too expensive in downtown Hartford.
MetLife's pending move to Bloomfield points to a need for improved regional planning and for Hartford - the welcome news of Prudential Retirement's decision to stay in its downtown space aside - to more effectively use its assets to hone a winning business retention strategy.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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