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New owners, new people — the Danbury year in business

December 28, 2018

January — Cartus replaces CEO

Entering 2018, the real estate giant Realogy switched out both its CEO and the longtime head of its Cartus relocation services division in Danbury. Kevin Kelleher had led Cartus since 1997, with Cartus employing 1,300 people locally as of this past summer. In July, Realogy installed as Cartus CEO Katrina Helmkamp, a former executive with Whirlpool, ServiceMaster, SVP Worldwide and Lenox Corp. Helmkamp told Hearst Connecticut Media that Realogy intends to support new hiring for Cartus in Danbury. In her first quarter leading Cartus, relocation initiations were up 8 percent from a year ago, and referrals 10 percent.

February — Prunty new chamber chief

After the sudden departure in October 2017 of former CEO Steve Bull, in February the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce named P.J. Prunty as his replacement, with Prunty having directed the CityCenter Danbury downtown revitalization nonprofit. The chamber has more than 800 members in Danbury and surrounding towns, with revenue of $550,000 and assets of $330,000 in 2016. Prunty said he sees “a lot of natural synergy” between CityCenter and the chamber, and that he hopes to create more collaborative efforts between the two organizations. Prunty, 30, was raised in Danbury where he lives today.

March — Microbreweries proliferate

“It was insane,” was the assessment of an owner of the new Broken Symmetry Gastro Brewery that opened in March at a one-time rail depot in the heart of Bethel. Broken Symmetry was one of several new brewpubs and microbreweries to open in southwestern Connecticut this year, along with Bad Dream Charter Oak Brewing in Danbury; Housatonic River Brewing and Bad Dream Brewing in New Milford; Tribus Beer in Milford; and East Rock Brewing and Rhythm Brewing in New Haven. An insane proliferation that can only lead to market saturation? Only time will tell, in 2019 or beyond.

April — Boehringer Ingelheim eyes $24B spend

Boehringer Ingelheim announced in April plans to spend $24 billion through 2025 on research and development, with the German giant having its main stateside R&D center at its U.S. headquarters in Ridgefield where it employs about 2,000 people. Boehringer Ingelheim is aiming to produce 15 new medicines over the coming six years, with the company having received approval last year for a “biosimilar” to compete with the AbbVie blockbuster drug Humira in treating arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Boehringer Ingelheim spent more than $3 billion last year on R&D, with global sales nearly $22 billion.

May — Apartment complex flipped

At a price of $86.3 million, Los Angeles-based Lowe Enterprises Investors led the purchase of Kennedy Flats, a 374-unit luxury apartment complex built in 2016 by Greystar in downtown Danbury. At the time of the sale, Kennedy Flats had an occupancy rate of 91 percent, with the complex including a pool and multiple lounges. In September, a New Jersey entity spent $108 million to buy the Crown Point complex at 50 Saw Mill Road in Danbury from Harbor Group International. And in January, an entity called MV Still River invested $42 million to acquire Avalon Danbury, renaming it The Point at Still River.

June — Puffs maker triples capacity

With a distribution agreement with Whole Foods Market in place, LesserEvil tripled its Danbury plant’s capacity for producing popcorn, potato chips and Paleo Puffs. At a ceremony commemorating the expansion, Mayor Mark Boughton recalled LesserEvil’s early days with “one popper in (the) basement” under founder and CEO Charles Coristine, with the company now having expanded to more than 70 employees. In November, LesserEvil reported raising $1.8 million in funding toward a planned $6 million round, with backers including Toronto-based InvestEco Capital. In addition to Whole Foods locally, ShopRite stocks LesserEvil snacks.

July — FuelCell back to expansion mode

With a yo-yoing workforce the past few years, FuelCell Energy was in expansion mode again this summer, with an eye on adding more than 100 people at its Danbury headquarters and Torrington plant that already employed 500 workers. Deriving electricity from a chemical process, fuel cells remain dependent on government incentives to make them cost competitive with other power generation technologies, with the state awarding FuelCell new projects in Derby and Hartford over the coming year. In December, the Nasdaq issued a formal warning to FuelCell that it risked having its shares delisted after a prolonged stretch trading below $1.

August — Summit grabs Matrix

In August, southwestern Connecticut’s most intractable economic development question finally got an answer, when Fairfield-based Summit Development swooped in to acquire the 1.1 million-square-foot Matrix Corporate Center that has seen a steadily eroding tenant base the past few years. Currently leading a redevelopment of the former Reader’s Digest campus in Chappaqua, N.Y., Summit developer Felix Charney is eyeing a similar vision for Matrix in adding residential and retail space. This month, Mayor Mark Boughton announced the owner of the newly renamed Ridge at Danbury could have to pay fees to defray any extra costs incurred by schools.

September — Hotel proposed for Danbury

With Marriott Residence Inn hotels under construction in Stamford and Norwalk, in September a proposed extended-stay venue surfaced in Danbury as well with the submission of plans for a conversion of the Paul Mitchell cosmetology school at National Place. Danbury dentist and real estate investor Dr. Jagat Patel leads the entity listed as the developer of the proposed 40-unit hotel, which would offer an extended-stay option. Last month, Stamford saw the addition of a new Residence Inn by Marriott on Atlantic Street, with work continuing on the Residence Inn by Marriott — SoNo in South Norwalk with an anticipated opening next year.

October — Danbury Fair humming

Retail apocalypse on the eve of the 2018 holiday shopping season? Not at Danbury Fair. Entering October, Danbury’s lone major attraction had a 95 percent occupancy rate, up 3 percentage points from the start of the year, with the mall recently drawing H&M as a major new tenant. Retail sales for the mall’s tenants were down slightly as of the third quarter from a year ago, as calculated on a sales-per-square-foot basis by owner Macerich, but Danbury Fair nevertheless continues to draw replacement tenants wanting to tap into the consumer market of western Connecticut and Putnam and Westchester counties in New York.

November — Armor All moves to Energizer

With a $1.5 billion deal nearly complete to acquire Rayovac from Spectrum Brands, Energizer Holdings reached a separate, $1.25 billion agreement to buy a Spectrum division that sells Armor All and STP. Spectrum’s Global Auto Care division has its headquarters in Danbury, with the business taking a $28.7 million operating loss in 2017 on the heels of profits of $101 million and $118 million the prior two years. Speaking to investment analysts in mid-November, Energizer’s chief operating officer said that the company believes it can improve the performance of the unit, with revenue rising 4 percent last year to $466 million.

December — Praxair now Linde Group

Exiting October, Praxair reported as legally complete its $46 billion merger with German rival Linde, with the new Linde Group having its operational headquarters in Danbury under Praxair CEO Steve Angel, but incorporating in Ireland and choosing the United Kingdom as its domicile for tax purposes. Linde Group had aimed to begin fully integrating its operations by year end, holding off while awaiting final regulatory approval of a few business unit divestments needed for approval of the merger by antitrust regulators. The Praxair name had stemmed back to the company’s 1992 spinoff from Danbury-based Union Carbide.

Compiled by Alexander Soule; includes prior reporting by Chris Bosak, Pam McLoughlin and Zach Murdock.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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