November 7, 2006
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, Courant Staff Writer
By this time next year, a lot fewer ING workers will be commuting into Hartford.
Construction of a new, $100 million Connecticut headquarters for the Dutch financial services company is well underway in Windsor, and the first ING workers are expected to begin moving into the massive, 475,000-square-foot glass and concrete structure in October.
Working under a tight deadline, laborers are putting in six-day work weeks - 10 hours a day Monday through Friday and eight hours on Saturdays - because ING must complete the move of 2,000 workers out of Hartford by the end of next year.
ING is under pressure to relocate because its lease for space owned by insurer Aetna Inc. on Farmington Avenue in Hartford expires at the end of 2007. ING chose not to exercise an option to extend the lease and instead build a new headquarters.
About 50 tradesmen are now working on the 93-acre site off Day Hill Road in Windsor erecting the four-story building's steel framework and pouring concrete floors. The number of laborers is eventually expected to swell to more than 200.
While ING says it is confident that the building will be ready in time, a spell of rainy weather in August made for some nervous moments, slowing construction and, on some days, bringing it to a halt.
"The heavy rains in August about killed us," said Joseph G. Bean, site manager for John Moriarty & Associates Inc., the Winchester, Mass., company overseeing work on the project. But, Bean said the work is back on track.
The ING headquarters represents the largest single office building to be constructed in the Hartford area in nearly 20 years. Not since the construction of State House Square in 1987 has there been a larger office building erected. State House Square, in the heart of downtown Hartford, has about 670,000 square feet of office space.
According to research by the Hartford office of the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield of Connecticut Inc., there also hasn't been an office project larger than ING in the combined Hartford and New Haven markets since 1990, when the Connecticut Financial Center rose above Church Street in New Haven with a half million square feet.
The ING headquarters in Windsor is initially expected to hold 2,000 workers, but has the capacity to accommodate 500 more, though there is no timetable for hiring.
ING is getting a break on local property taxes for five years from the town of Windsor. And ING is also finalizing negotiations with the state over an incentive package. Neither side will comment on the terms until there is final approval.
ING's decision to build a new headquarters came as little surprise. When the Dutch company bought Aetna's financial services business and moved into the space occupied by the unit, local commercial brokers said it would only be a matter of time before ING would want its own space rather than one physically connected to the main Aetna headquarters building.
While ING chose Windsor over potential sites in Hartford and at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, the decision secures for the Hartford area ING's retirement services business, now based in Hartford. The retirement services business is ING's largest division based in the United States, and has the most employees.
In contrast to the fortress-like appearance of the Aetna space ING now leases, the new Windsor headquarters will make abundant use of glass and flood work spaces with natural light, said Al Spagnolo, of the designing architectural firm of Spagnolo Gisness & Associates Inc. of Boston. Spagnolo said the structure is designed to convey the stability of ING as a Fortune 50 company but isn't intended to be either ultra-modern or contain historical architectural references.
"This is a building of its time," Spagnolo said. "It will employ materials used in the early 21st century."
In addition to glass and limestone-colored concrete, the building will be crowned with a champagne-colored steel that, together with other materials, is intended to convey a warm, inviting appearance, Spagnolo said.
The building is divided into three parts: a central section where workers and visitors will enter a two-story atrium and which will be flanked by two massive wings.
Spagnolo said the fourth floor of the central section is slightly higher than the adjoining wings to allow for a cafeteria with 20-foot high ceilings, double the height of those in the offices.
Because of the views, most designers would have reserved the area for executive offices, but ING wanted to create a meeting space for employees, who will also be able to make use of outside balconies off the cafeteria, Spagnolo said.
Construction began in July on a site that was once cut in half by Northfield Drive. Much of Northfield Drive has been torn up, and what remains will be turned into two cul-de-sacs, one serving as the entrance to the ING site. The main entrance will be from what's left of Northfield Drive, and will form an impressive vista on the approach. The building is big enough that it will take 300 miles of cable to run computer and telephone lines, enough to stretch from Hartford to Washington, D.C.
The project hasn't been without controversy. The local building trades protested how ING handed out contracts, arguing that a larger share of contracts went to nonunion companies. Ironworkers picketed ING's headquarters over the issue.
Philip Margolis, an ING spokesman in Hartford, said last week that the most recent contract tally shows that 70 percent of contracts went to unionized labor.
ING is working to build enthusiasm for the move to Windsor, running employee contests and events. The winning entry from a contest to name the other cul-de-sac, which enters to the rear of the site, was "Orange Way" - after one of ING's corporate colors.
After the move, ING will still have 200 workers left in downtown Hartford at State House Square.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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