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MassMutual Near Sale Of Asylum Hill Office, Land

City Says Buyer's Priority Should Be Corporate Use

November 4, 2005

A deal to sell the soon-to-be vacant MassMutual property on Garden Street in Hartford is close to being finalized, and city officials are urging the prospective buyer to consider a corporate tenant first - and condominiums second, officials said.

"I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet," said Matt Hennessy, chief of staff for Mayor Eddie A. Perez. "Maybe there was some last minute due diligence, but [two weeks ago] they were very, very close."

The mayor and his staff have met with the potential buyer - who, according to Hennessy, is a New York investor with no significant holdings in Hartford to date - to discuss the building's future.

With an explosion of apartments and condominiums either under construction or newly on the market in Hartford, close to 1,000 new living units could soon have downtown Hartford addresses.

Given that, city officials feel that the MassMutual site - with easy highway access, lots of parking, and the potential to bring jobs - would be best suited to another corporate use, Hennessy said.

"The mayor has set forth a pretty clear vision for that property," Hennessy said. "First and foremost, he would like the property used for corporate use. There are some opportunities for having a significant corporate presence at that location in the near future."

MassMutual said last year it would vacate the Garden Street property, which sits on 11.2 acres in the heart of the Asylum Hill neighborhood, and move most of its operations out of the city. Since then, the insurer has been moving workers gradually to sites in Enfield and Springfield.

About 850 employees remain at Garden Street and are expected to be moved over the next six months.

MassMutual had about 1,200 employees in the city when it announced the move. Its Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers unit will remain in downtown Hartford.

Jim Lacey, a MassMutual spokesman, declined to say how soon a decision might be reached about the property, or whether the field of potential buyers had been narrowed.

Lacey also declined to say whether the property might be used for condominiums, office space or a combination.

"Our chief objective always has always been to find a high quality buyer and to ensure the continued vitality of the property," Lacey said.

The Garden Street building was constructed in 1926 and is tucked behind the campus of The Hartford.

Its distinctive Corinthian-style portico, pediment and balustrade represent classical details of the Georgian Revival style.

The brick and limestone exterior reflect the classical revival influences that dominated corporate architecture in the early 20th century.

MassMutual would not say how much it wants for the building, which was marketed without an asking price. The main building and the associated 11.2 acres at 140 Garden St. have a total assessed value of $12.74 million, city records show.

Commercial real estate brokers estimated that the insurer could fetch about $20 a square foot for the building, based on recent sales of vacant buildings in downtown Hartford. At $20 a foot, the 450,000-square-foot property could bring at least $9 million.

The price, however, could be affected by the fact that Garden Streetis a step removed from the city's central business district.

Ken Johnson, executive director of the Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, which is working to revitalize the neighborhood, said Asylum Hill is not as far removed from downtown as it might initially seem.

"In seven minutes I can walk from Ashley Street to Union Station," said Johnson, whose group is trying to revitalize Asylum Hill streets just behind the MassMutual property.

Although Johnson said his first preference would be to see the property used to boost employment in the city, he said residences such as condominiums would increase stability in the neighborhood.

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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