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MetLife Confirms It's Moving To Bloomfield

Insurer Signs Purchase Agreement For CIGNA-Owned Building

April 20, 2007
By DIANE LEVICK, Courant Staff Writer

MetLife Inc. confirmed Thursday that it is buying a 550,000-square-foot Bloomfield office building and moving about 2,000 employees there - 1,300 of them from Hartford's CityPlace - in a deal that's a boon to the suburban town, but a bust for the Insurance City.

New York-based MetLife signed a purchase agreement Thursday to acquire CIGNA Corp.'s South Building in Bloomfield.

The deal, which The Courant reported last month was already on track, will also include two nearby buildings - one 40,688 square feet, the other 101,652 square feet. The closing is expected in May, and the purchase price would become public then.

The 1,300 MetLife employees in Hartford will move to Bloomfield during the third quarter of 2008, company spokesman John Calagna said. The company has Hartford operations because it acquired Travelers Life & Annuity in 2005.

In addition, roughly 450 employees will move from MetLife's leased space in Glastonbury this December, and 250 will relocate to Bloomfield from Rocky Hill in the first quarter of 2008.

In an extra bonus for Bloomfield, CIGNA said Thursday it will switch about 70 of its Bristol employees later this year to its Wilde Building in Bloomfield. The building is undergoing major renovations and will eventually house all of the CIGNA employees now in the South Building.

The 70 Bristol workers run CIGNA's Innovation Lab, which develops and tests best practices for service operations. The company wants them in the Wilde Building so the lab can be shown off to customers who visit the headquarters of CIGNA HealthCare.

About 300 CIGNA employees will remain in Bristol.

CIGNA previously said it also plans to move 200 employees from Trumbull Street in Hartford to the Wilde Building.

MetLife's move to Bloomfield is likely to have a negative economic impact on Hartford, at least temporarily, as it decreases foot traffic and takes away employees who might have been attracted to the hundreds of apartments and condominiums that have recently been built downtown.

MetLife, though, does not view its move as abandoning Hartford.

"We are making a significant commitment, both in terms of people and finances, to the Greater Hartford area," Calagna said. Bloomfield will be one of MetLife's largest office locations once its employees move there.

MetLife decided on the move because its Connecticut leases will be coming up for renewal and it wants to bring employees together from separate locations for efficiency and "to create a sense of community," Calagna said.

In seeking a new home, the company sought room to grow and free parking. MetLife employees in Hartford pay $120 to $140 a month for parking, depending on the garage.

The company also "wanted someplace that would be a very good investment for the company, and this building is," Calagna said of the Bloomfield facility.

MetLife had looked at several Hartford buildings when searching for a new home, including its present CityPlace I location, but would not comment on why those were rejected. However, real estate experts have said the shortage and expense of parking in downtown Hartford is a key problem in attracting and keeping businesses.

The deal with CIGNA will give MetLife 1,743 parking spaces, including 558 in a garage, CIGNA spokesman Joe Mondy said.

The transaction includes 50 acres. One of the two smaller buildings that MetLife is buying currently houses print facilities for CIGNA. About 500,000 square feet of the 550,000-square-foot South Building is considered usable workspace.

Hartford officials who had hoped to keep MetLife in the city had complained that the company failed to respond to their outreach efforts.

"It is unfortunate that MetLife has made this decision, but Mayor Perez and the City of Hartford will continue to work to keep bringing more high-paying insurance and financial jobs to the Capital City," said Sarah Barr, director of communications for Mayor Eddie Perez.

"I'm really not that worried" about MetLife's departure, said Susan Winkler, executive director of the Connecticut Insurance and Financial Services Cluster, a state-private partnership to foster those industries.

"The city, itself, and the Hartford region is a great strategic location" between New York and Boston with "a tremendous pool" of insurance and financial services employees - a key attraction in recruiting businesses, Winkler said.

Bloomfield Town Manager Louie Chapman Jr. said Thursday that he was happy to welcome MetLife to town.

"It's a confirmation of some of the things we have done to make our community an attractive one for businesses," Chapman said. "It ends up being more about long-term relationships than dollars."

He said the town did not offer the company economic incentives to move to Bloomfield, and MetLife has said it was not seeking any town or state assistance.

MetLife plans improvements to the South Building, such as a new fitness center and other renovations, Calagna said.

The four-story South Building of granite, aluminum and glass, which is five miles from downtown Hartford, was built in 1983 in a design that could be adapted for retail use. CIGNA, wanting to consolidate employees in the Wilde Building, decided in March 2006 to lease or sell the South Building, with a preference for a sale.

As it prepares for MetLife's move, CIGNA will switch about 800 of its 2,500 employees from the South Building to the Wilde Building in the next few weeks, Mondy said. The rest will move in phases in mid-June, mid-September and mid-December, he said.

The renovated Wilde Building is expected to house 4,000 employees by the end of the year, but will accommodate about 4,500 employees, giving CIGNA room to grow.

Courant Staff Writer Steven Goode contributed to this story.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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