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Gateway Harbor Point Work on Charter HQ quietly moves forward

September 30, 2018

A year after it announced an ambitious plan to build a new headquarters in downtown Stamford, Charter Communications says the project is moving ahead. But it is not saying much more at the moment.

The telecommunications giant’s plan calls for construction of a 15-story building on top of an existing parking garage, which stands adjacent to the downtown Metro-North station and is owned by Stamford-based developer Building and Land Technology. The undertaking reflects Charter’s marked growth in recent years and would reshape the city’s office market, which has seen few additions to its building inventory in recent years.

“Construction has begun at the Gateway Harbor Point site, and we expect the project to take approximately two years to complete,” Charter and BLT officials said in a joint statement.

The companies declined to comment further and did not make any officials available for interviews for this article.

Building at Gateway

Charter announced on Oct. 3, 2017, that it would relocate its headquarters from its current home at 400 Atlantic St., to a new 500,000-square-foot building at the Gateway Harbor Point complex, at 406 Washington Blvd. A second building could eventually be built on the same site.

In May, the city’s Zoning Board approved the project.

The project was originally scheduled to be completed next year, compared with Charter and BLT’s new statement projecting a 2020 finish.

Construction so far appears to be focused on foundational work, with no cranes deployed or building skeleton assembled.

A blue tarp-covered chain-link fence runs along part of the east and south sides of the site. A sign posted on the fence, on Pulaski Street, reads: “Authorized personnel only. Hard hats required. Watch for falling material. Watching for moving equipment. Watch for uneven surfaces.”

While a series of new apartment buildings have transformed the downtown landscape in the past decade, structures built in the 1970s and 1980s still dominate the phalanx of office blocks in the city center.

Royal Bank of Scotland’s approximately 400,000-square-foot hub at 600 Washington Blvd. — facing the Gateway site, across I-95 and the Metro-North lines — represents the most recent office addition to downtown Stamford to rival the scope of Charter’s plan. Opened in 2008, RBS’ building also houses local offices for UBS, Citizens Bank and Bank of America.

Growing in Stamford

The decision to move reflects Charter’s prodigious growth since it relocated in 2012 its headquarters to its current base from St. Louis.

Since then, it has expanded from one floor to eight levels, becoming the largest tenant in the approximately 500,000-square-foot structure at 400 Atlantic.

Acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks for a combined $65 billion in 2016 supercharged Charter’s growth.

The firm now serves about 28 million residential and business customers, ranking as the second-largest cable company in the country, behind Philadelphia-based Comcast. It represents the only Fortune 100 company headquartered in Stamford.

Charter employed nearly 1,400 in Connecticut, as of May 31, according to the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Following a multimillion-dollar package of state subsidies the company received for moving to Stamford, Charter has qualified for a $10 million loan and up to $15 million in tax credits to support the new headquarters. Charter would have the loan fully forgiven and earn the maximum tax credits if it were to hit certain job targets.

Meanwhile, Charter continues to operate at 400 Atlantic.

Late last year, Charter acquired the property’s distressed mortgage loan for $100 million, representing about 40 percent of the $265 million principal originated in 2007.

Officials at The Landis Group — the owner and manager of 400 Atlantic and also the loan’s borrower, through an affiliated subsidiary group — saw the purchase of the note as undermining negotiations between the two parties.

Despite Charter’s announcement of the move, representatives of Landis have said in the past year that the landlord was still trying to keep the company as a tenant.

“It’s extremely unusual, to put it mildly, for a mortgage lender to sell a mortgage loan to the major tenant of the building,” Stephen Meister, an attorney for Landis and partner of the Manhattan law firm Meister Seelig & Fein, said in an interview last year. “It’s particularly unusual — and, frankly, I think improper — when the lender knows that that sale is taking place during sensitive negotiations between the landlord and the tenant.”

Last year, Landis had been contemplating legal action against Charter, according to Meister.

Messages left last week for Meister were not returned.

Filling space

Charter’s move would not solve the city’s prevalence of vacancies, which comprise about 25 percent of Stamford’s total office inventory, according to several measures.

Temporarily, the plan might aggravate the problem because 400 Atlantic would lose its largest tenant.

“By the numbers, it will certainly be a negative impact on the Stamford office market once Charter surrenders their current space at 400 Atlantic,” said Sean Cahill, principal and managing director for the Fairfield-Westchester County office of commercial real estate firm Avison Young.

But Cahill added that Charter’s commitment to Stamford could still produce a “quantifiable positive impact” on the area’s business climate.

Meanwhile, BLT needs to fill large tracts in its existing office buildings. Its approximately 470,000-square-foot property at 1 Elmcroft Road, also known as Silicon Harbor, lies vacant except for the developer’s own offices there.

Now the city’s second-largest office vacancy, 1 Elmcroft formerly housed the headquarters of technology company Pitney Bowes, which relocated a couple of years ago to 3001 Summer St.

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; Twitter: @paulschott

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