November 24, 2006
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, Courant Staff Writer
WFSB's new $25 million headquarters in a Rocky Hill office park would have been a perfect fit in downtown Hartford, complete with glass facade and lobby.
After all, it was originally designed to be built in the city, near the current location of WFSB, Channel 3, at Constitution Plaza.
Visitors and passing pedestrians would have gotten an eye-level glimpse of the tumult of a newsroom on deadline and one of two broadcast studios.
In Rocky Hill, visitors will certainly get the intended peek inside the new headquarters, but the effect now will be lost on pedestrians, few as they may be in an office park. The building, now midway through construction, is perched high atop a hill in Corporate Ridge, 10 minutes south of Hartford. Sidewalks are located far below.
"It seems like the whole purpose of what they are trying to create is a pedestrian experience," said Tyler Smith, a Hartford architect and longtime supporter of downtown Hartford. "I thought it was unfortunate that they moved out of the city."
The two-story, 65,000-square-foot building now rising on 6 acres in Rocky Hill is carved into the side of a hill, the result of heavy-duty blasting. The building, scheduled to open in late spring or early summer, is being wired for the latest in digital and high-definition television technology.
The building's design is clearly contemporary. Glass and steel predominate, intended to convey a center for emerging television technology in the 21st century.
The proposed building, designed as it was, moved from city to suburb because the size of the property and other factors were not right, said Jeannine Vail, a design architect at Rees Associates Inc. in Dallas, the firm that created the building.
The structure is the same as what would have been built in Hartford, but some decorative elements have been changed to reflect the move. For instance, limestone on portions of the exterior pays homage to the building's location and the rock that had to be blasted away during construction, Vail said.
Klarn DePalma, the general manager of the station, said one drawback of moving to the suburbs from Constitution Plaza will certainly be the loss of exposure for the station, which comes from drivers and pedestrians passing by - and seeing pictures and logos in a prominent spot facing Columbus Boulevard.
"That's something we'd like to have, and it's something we're losing," DePalma said.
But he said WFSB discontinued weather forecasts from a glass-enclosed studio on Columbus Boulevard, which had dated back to the era of iconic weatherman Hilton Kaderli, because there weren't a lot of pedestrians stopping to watch.
"It wasn't as big an attraction as we had hoped," DePalma said.
The Rocky Hill site will be slightly larger than the space now occupied by WFSB at 3 Constitution Plaza. But the configuration will be completely different - and there is room for adding on another 10,000 square feet, said Victor Zarilli, WFSB's manager for the construction project.
Right now, the newsroom and broadcast studios are on different floors, making communication between the two areas cumbersome.
"It's like a track meet every day," Zarilli said.
In Rocky Hill, the news-gathering operation and broadcast areas will be right next to each other.
"It's going to be night and day," DePalma said.
The cost for parking, always a concern in the city, isn't an issue in the suburbs, DePalma said.
Employees will park free in a parking lot. Now, each employee and the station split the cost of parking annually, about $1,200 for each of the station's 180 employees.
Even though WFSB had long ago outgrown its broadcast studios on Constitution Plaza, it still appeared that the television station would remain in the city where it was founded in 1957 as WTIC, Channel 3. But last year, the CBS affiliate pulled out of an agreement with the city to build a new headquarters at Main and Trumbull streets, saying the 3-acre site turned out to be too small.
WFSB said it needed more space because the new studios will also be the broadcast headquarters for its parent company, Meredith Corp., and the station also needs more room for its growing Hispanic programming initiatives.
Zarilli said the new headquarters will prepare the station for television's future and the way it will interact with other media, including the Internet.
"Every square inch is designed around television," Zarilli said, "and where we are going in the future."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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