By Mitchell Young
DANBURY: GE’s sale of its sprawling campus to Sacred Heart University and the relocation of employees to Boston and Norwalk, appears to be part of a larger undercurrent of corporate management. Major companies revisiting how they structure their faclity needs is having a major impact on Fairfield County’s corporate real estate market.
Making matters more difficult for two signature office buildings however, is the untimely death of the founder of the Matrix Realty Group.
Glen Nelson’s Matrix Realty Group of Port Jefferson, NY., bought Union Carbide’s former headquarters in Danbury in 2009 for $72 million, after Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide.
The architecturally unique complex spans 2.1 million square feet, and its 1.3 million square feet of office space is the largest of any building in Fairfield County. Designed by Kevin Roche, now 94 and the founder of Roche Dinkello in Hamden, it was completed in 1982 at a cost of $190 million.
The building sits on 5,000 concrete columns, its exterior faces surrounding forest, while the interior features a 2,500 space parking court, with many offices fronted right to the employe's office. Carbide had more than 3,000 employees in the building at one time. The orignal site of 646 acres has since been divided and developed with condos and other amenities.
Nelson, died just before his 49th birthday in an auto accident on December 22nd, 2015. Under Nelson, Matrix renamed and repurposed the complex for multiple tenants and a conference center. The property went from “white elephant” status and talk of being razed, to an unexpected success. In 2013 the property was refinanced with an $85 million loan, but only two years later, the tide began to turn. Praxair which occupied 200,000 square feet announced it was purchasing GE Capital's former headquarters at 39 Ridgefield Road, in Danbury. Boehringer Ingeleheim, which at one point occupied 325,000 square feet announced it was consolidating Danbury operations and it too would be leaving the complex for a company owned building. Boehringer announced 120 layoffs this past December at its Ridgefield research center, bringing the total layoffs to nearly 300 for the year in Danbur, the company still employs approximately 2500 in the greater Danbury area.
Matrix reacted to the changing market in 2015 announcing potential plans for a major investment to convert the property for smaller companies and even to a “tech park”. Additionally they suggested they would reduce the overall commercial space available, possibly adding residences to the complex. That plan was cut short with Nelson's death.
Deutsch Bank the mortgage holder for the Matrix Center moved in January to foreclose on the property, declaring its $85 million loan in default, the bank added however that the process was a “friendly” action between the parties, and expects the property to be sold or taken over by DB.
Matrix Realty also owns the Matrix Corporate Center in Norwalk, at 535 Connecticut Avenue, which it purchased in 2014 for $13.5 million. The company has put a For Sale sign up on the170,000 square foot building.
The property, visible from I-95 was previously home to the then booming University of Phoenix and is reportedly 70% occupied. A recent listing shows a total of 18,500 square feet availalbe at a rate $23.50 per square foot. Crius Energy, which sells energy to consumers on the east coast recently moved into 45,000 square feet in the building. The State of Connecticut provided an $8 million low interest loan to Crius, to accommodate its move from Stamford and for the expansion. The package included a promise that Crius would increase employment to 425 from its existing workforce of 200.