Bridgewater still plans to leave Westport, as zone revision for its property emerges
Published 8:16 am, Thursday, February 6, 2014
Bridgewater Associates, among the world's largest hedge funds, still expects to move its headquarters from Westport to Stamford, despite hurdles that have stalled the plan in that city.
Nonetheless, with a planned move still Bridgewater's goal, the first signs of what might be done with its Glendinning Place headquarters have begun to emerge.
The Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday is scheduled to review a proposal to modify zoning regulations that would allow "expansion of buildings located in existing DDDs (Design Development District), such as the Bridgewater site." The application was submitted by Lawrence Weisman, a local lawyer who said he is acting on behalf of Bridgewater. The P&Z hearing on the application is on the agenda for the meeting set for 7 p.m. in Town Hall.
Bridgewater headquarters currently is housed in a three-story, 47,314-square-foot headquarters at 1 Glendinning Place. The DDD designation for the Bridgewater property is one of five such sites in town.
In a statement filed with the application, Weisman said the DDD amendment was written "to prevent the establishment of new DDD zones after Aug. 11, 1980, but was not intended to prohibit existing special permit and/or site plan approvals on the five existing DDD zoned properties."
Weisman, in a phone interview last Friday, said that even though the amendment blocks establishing any more DDD zones, "the way it reads now, it prevents property owners from upgrading their properties." He said he believes that was not what zoning officials intended.
Weisman added that the proposal has nothing to do with Bridgewater's planned move, which would freeing its Westport campus sale, but so Bridgewater can upgrade existing buildings, which are decades old.
Bridgewater, meanwhile, despite the controversy that engulfed its developer's efforts to win approval for plans to build a new headquarters in Stamford, says that it still plans to re-locate.
"Our goal remains the same as when the project was introduced -- to explore building a new headquarters in Stamford that fits our culture and enhances our business," the firm said in a statement to the Westport News.
"We remain excited by the prospect of a state-of-the-art campus that will bring all of our employees together under one roof while, at the same time, restoring this key piece of natural waterfront property," company officials said, referring to Harbor Point in Stamford's South End. "Although, as we clearly stated at the time of the announcement, there are a number of hurdles that we would need to overcome before we could bring this project to fruition."
The outstanding issues the company continues to evaluate include zoning and community-related issues, as well as the overall feasibility, cost and complexity of the project, the Bridgewater statement adds.
"We are well known for valuing meaningful work and meaningful relationships," according to the statement. "For that reason, in addition to wanting to make sure that we can have the headquarters of our dreams, we want to make sure that Bridgewater is a welcomed addition to this community and can contribute to its betterment."
Bridgewater has planned a $750 million, 850,000-square-foot headquarters in Stamford, which would accommodate more than 2,000 employees -- nearly double the number now working at the firm in Westport.
First Selectman Jim Marpe said that Westport officials have been in contact with senior management at Bridgewater, but declined to give specifics. "That's not something I can talk about," he said.
Weisman said his proposed change to Westport's DDD amendment, as now written, is ambiguous concerning making changes to DDD properties. Weisman said his proposed modification would resolve that lack of clarity.
The modification, however, would also make it possible for Bridgewater, or any company that might buy the property if the hedge fund leaves, to expand "not more than 20 percent" of the square footage currently on the Glendinning Place campus, he said.
Besides Bridgewater, the other properties designated DDDs are Nyala Farms corporate center, Greens Farms Office Park, Goram Island and a complex on Saugatuck Avenue near the railroad station, Weisman said.
Plans for Bridgewater Associates to relocate began with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's decision to grant the firm an incentive package -- designed to keep the business in Connecticut -- that included a $25 million forgivable loan, $5 million in grand funds for job training, $5 million for an alternative energy system and $80 million in tax credits.
But a series of problems has plagued efforts by Building and Land Technology, the headquarters project developer, to win approval for the plans from Stamford zoning officials. The Harbor Point plan remains in limbo amid indications that Stamford officials may consider another site in the city for Bridgewater.
As Bridgewater continues to plan its move, another of Westport's largest corporate residents -- Save the Children -- definitely will leave town later this year. The international relief agency will move its headquarters at 54 Wilton Road to move to an office complex on Kings Highway East in Fairfield.
Save the Children last year sold its two-story, 58,000-square-foot building to an investment group led by developer David Waldman for $11.9 million.
One town official has raised concerns that both the Save the Children and Bridgewater properties could be converted for residential use in the future.
Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon, during a recent Board of Education meeting, said if developing housing on those sites could mean an increase in the town's school population -- and, potentially, require higher education spending.