May 5, 2006
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, Courant Staff Writer
The new owners of One Corporate Center - known as the Stilts Building - plan a multimillion-dollar makeover of the aging downtown Hartford office tower, a further sign of optimism that the city is on the rebound.
Hampshire Real Estate Cos., based in Morristown, N.J., finalized its $19 million purchase of the 23-story building late Wednesday and hopes to begin renovations by late summer. Work is expected to include a new lobby, upgraded elevators, an improved heating and cooling system and façade improvements.
Even with sluggish leasing downtown in the past year, Hampshire said it sees potential in the Stilts Building because it well located in the city, has impressive views from the upper floors and is near the highway.
The purchase is Hampshire's first in Hartford, although it owns office and industrial properties in Cheshire, Meriden, Middlebury and Bridgeport, said Todd Anderson, a senior investment manager at Hampshire who will oversee the Stilts renovation. Anderson declined to say specifically Thursday how much the planned improvements might cost.
Commercial real estate brokers Thursday said the deal was noteworthy because the 390,000-square-foot building is three-quarters empty, yet still attracted an out-of-state investor who plans to renovate before signing leases.
"Anytime we can bring new capital into the market, it's a very good sign," said John M. McCormick, executive vice president at CB Richard Ellis in Hartford, a commercial real estate firm not involved in the purchase. "It's an indication that people outside the market are seeing and believing in the turnaround of Hartford."
Hampshire, a privately held real estate fund management firm that seeks out properties to renovate, acquired the Stilts Building from developer Robert A. Danial, who heads the New York-based Morgan Reed Group.
Danial and a partner acquired the office tower in 2002 by purchasing the mortgage. They also signed a deal with the owner at the time, Chase Enterprises, to take control of day-to-day operations.
The value of Danial's initial investment could not be determined Thursday.
The renovations at the Stilts Building, erected in 1981, come after years of ownership by Danial in which little was done to improve the tower, said Jay Wamester, a broker at Colliers Dow & Condon in Hartford who was involved in the purchase. Major commercial brokers no longer considered the tower a top-level prime property in the city. The renovations are aimed at restoring the building to one that can command higher rents, Wamester said.
Current tenants include brokerage RBC Dain Rauscher and WTIC-TV, Channel 61. Channel 61 is owned by Tribune Co., which also owns The Courant.
Leslie Silverman, a spokeswoman for Danial, said the developer wanted to concentrate on his residential properties in the city, which include apartments in Union Place and Asylum Hill. Danial also owns the old Bond Hotel, now being converted into a Homewood Suites.
The $19 million price for the Stilts Building represents about $49 a square foot. The price is about $13 a square foot more than the $36 a square foot that was recently paid for the comparable Bank of America building at 777 Main St.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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