December 3, 2005
By DAN UHLINGER, Courant Staff Writer
The clock is ticking down on ING Group's plan to move 2,000 workers from Hartford to East Hartford.
Operating under a tight deadline, the financial services company announced in early August that it wanted to construct a four-story, $90 million building at Rentschler Field.
Company, state and town officials, along with the developer of Rentschler Field and its owner, United Technologies Corp., all greeted the announcement with a sense of urgency. ING's lease from Aetna in Hartford expires in 2007 and the company has to find a new home for its 2,000 employees.
But four months after ING announced the plan, the company still has no signed agreements with the developer or state officials.
Negotiations have been continuing but officials for the state, ING and the developer have been unable to predict when they will be concluded.
"These negotiations take time," said Jim Watson, a spokesman for the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
"It's one hell of a jigsaw puzzle," said former East Hartford Mayor Timothy D. Larson. "It doesn't surprise me it's taking this amount of time."
Larson said he was still concerned that ING might decide it was no longer prudent to focus on East Hartford and move to the Atlanta area where the company's U.S. operations are based.
"I've always been concerned about it. They're on an extremely tight deadline," Larson said. "Frankly, ING has to make a business decision. They have a real time frame that needs to be addressed. They have to be out by a certain time."
A spokesman for ING would not comment. Dan Matos, whose company is developing Rentschler, could not be reached for comment.
ING has been trying to obtain a package of financial incentives for its move, in addition to guarantees that the necessary infrastructure, chiefly roads, will be in place.
A source familiar with the negotiations said an agreement has been reached on a financial package, but the state has been unable to give ING a guarantee that the new roads to Rentschler will be built in time.
Recognizing a need to act quickly, the East Hartford town council approved a $6.5 million tax abatement package for ING on the same day in August when the company announced its plan to move.
Larson, who has been involved in the discussions with ING, said everyone involved in the deal has been working tirelessly to move the plan forward. Larson said there was a Nov. 8 meeting of all the parties involved.
"I thought everybody was seriously working very diligently and gave me no indication that they weren't. Everyone was moving in a very positive direction," Larson said Friday. "This is a very complicated real estate transaction."
State Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, D-East Hartford, said he is becoming concerned about the lack of an agreement. LeBeau is the chairman of the legislature's commerce committee, which oversees the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which has been negotiating the project.
LeBeau predicted in August that an agreement with the state, ING and UTC would be reached by the end of September. Now LeBeau is hoping that a deal is in place by the end of January.
"I think they're down to the hard negotiations at this point," he said. "I've been told the governor's office is involved. It's crunch time."
Several sources who did not want to be identified said that if ING missed its deadline for moving out of Hartford, it would cost the company about $500,000 a month in payments to Aetna.
ING could be the first tenant to move into the 650-acre Rentschler development proposed earlier this year by the Matos Group. The proposal calls for a $2 billion mixed-use development of technological research offices, hotels, medical and sports facilities, housing and retail.
Cabela's, the country's largest direct marketer of outdoor merchandise, has announced plans to build a store at Rentschler and is negotiating incentive packages with state officials.
The store would have a museum, aquarium, restaurant and other amenities and serve people interested in hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and other outdoor endeavors. It also would sell gifts and furnishings.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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