DANBURY — Nuvance Health’s move to the burgeoning Summit building is a sign the west side development could flourish and drive growth throughout the city, despite the struggling economy.
The seven-hospital system, which includes Danbury Hospital, plans to lease more than a third of the commercial space in the 1.2 million-square-foot former Union Carbide world headquarters.
This means the building could be filled within roughly five years—half the time project manager Michael Basile estimated just four months ago.
“It’s really great for the city because it takes this black eye that’s been sitting here for so long,” he said. “To be able to bring it back to life, it’s great for everybody.”
With offices, apartments, maybe a school, and various businesses and amenities, the plan is to create a “city within a city” at a building that has been mostly vacant for years.
Nuvance will bring office space occupancy up to 80 percent, with an option in the 12-year lease for the health system to expand up to 300,000 square feet, Summit Development said. That expansion would bring office occupancy to 100 percent.
“The partnership between the Summit and Nuvance Health is just a tremendous economic boost for the city of Danbury,” Mayor Joe Cavo said.
With more than 15,000 employees in western Connecticut and the Hudson Valley, Nuvance said it aims to continue to be an “economic driver” in the area.
Summit touted 500 jobs would move from New York to Danbury, but Nuvance said it does not have a final number. Some corporate and medical practice administrative departments will be in the building.
“Work is underway to determine which administrative departments will be centralized at The Summit, and the staff members who will move,” Forni said. “Many staff members will continue to reside at their current locations including in the hospitals and medical practices.”
The move will be phased throughout 2021 and will be “driven by many variables, including what is in the best interest of our staff and communities,” she said.
Construction on the apartments is expected to begin around February and last until the end of 2021, Basile said. The city approved 404 apartments, but would only construct 200 if the proposed Danbury Career Academy is built, he said.
Residents could potentially live and work in the building, send their children to the proposed school, and use the amenities.
“It’s kind of a micro city within a city,” Cavo said. “All the things that go along with that will available there and just lends itself to a one-stop living, education, shopping, eating type of venue.”
More people at the Summit could mean a boon to hotels, housing, restaurants and places like dry cleaners in the area, he said.
“All of these things get a little shot, a booster shot, so to speak, of having more personnel and clientele here that need their services,” Cavo said.
Success despite pandemic
The move is notable because the coronavirus pandemic has hurt businesses and changed the way people work.
“During this time, with the COVID situation and so many people working from home and just so many different things, it’s great to see an expansion like this happen in the city of Danbury,” Cavo said.
Other than Nuvance, leasing in the building has been “quiet” during the pandemic, Basile said. But Summit is actively marketing the available space.
There is already a restaurant, with a convenience store and yoga studio expected in 2021. A barber shop opened a few months ago, while Planet Fitness has “prospered,” Basile said. A putting green is planned, while a pool will be available for the apartment tenants.
These features give the Summit an edge over other businesses during the pandemic, he said.
“If you can bring the amenities to a location where people work, it helps the experience,” Basile said. “Even though people can work from home, they like coming here. They like the atmosphere.”
The pandemic changed how Paul Rotello, minority leader on City Council, thought of the development. With COVID affecting growth in the city, he is no longer concerned the apartments could bring too many students into the overcrowded schools.
Increased traffic on the west side is the biggest challenge to be managed, he said.
“All in all, it’s certainly a positive development for Danbury,” Rotello said. “That’s beyond dispute.”
Creating a ‘stabilized building’
Nuvance provides a foundation for future development in the Summit, said Vinny DiGilio, majority leader on City Council.
“It’s a key to success on many fronts,” he said.
For years, the property has been an albatross on the city.
Union Carbide once had thousands of employees in its headquarters, but their numbers dwindled after a 1984 accident at the company’s plant in Bhopal, India killed at least 5,200 people.
It was 15 percent occupied by the time Summit Development purchased it in October 2018 for $17.8 million.
“It’s been hurting for long to get some tenants,” City Council member Roberto Alves said. “At the end of the day, this is excellent news.”
Under a deal reached in September, the Summit will pay $860,000 annually in property taxes for 10 years before being taxed based on fair market value.
Developers also pay an annual fee, starting at $550,000 but expected to grow to $750,000, that is meant to go to the school district to offset the costs of potential additional students.
DiGilio, who headed the council committee that reviewed the tax agreement, said the deal could have helped the developers to attract Nuvance, he said.
“It’s exactly what we would want and expect to see as a result of working with a developer on an incentive structure like that,” he said.
A few council members had objected due to concerns that the development would become successful sooner than expected and that Danbury could lose out on tax dollars.
But that would be a small price to pay if the Summit flourishes, DiGilio said.
“To have a stabilized building with long-term success, that to me is worth it,” he said.
Alves had been one of the council members with those concerns, but planning for future development is now chief on his mind.
He wants the city to compete with others like Norwalk and Stamford to attract corporations similar to Nuvance by emphasizing Danbury’s good location near New York and airports.
“Let’s highlight that and bring in high-paying jobs,” Alves said.
With the proposed career academy, the Summit would fill all but 120,000 square feet of the building.
“To accomplish this required a shared vision of all involved and a willingness to, quite literally, think outside the box,” Summit Development President Felix T. Charney said in a statement.
Early plans call for about 50 to 60 classrooms, as well as a gym, offices, media center, cafeteria space, and more.
In the new year, Cavo plans to form a committee to solidify plans, including the cost. The state approved a bill in the fall that would pave the way for Danbury to receive 80 percent reimbursement for up to $93 million.
“The whole idea of the career academy is going to be for our youth to explore different opportunities for employment and different job areas and different job,” Cavo said.
It would also address overcrowding in the schools due to enrollment growth.
“The sooner we can get the ball rolling on that to alleviate the overburdened schools will be great,” Alves said.
The academy could create a “feeder system” for local jobs, including with Nuvance, Alves said.
“The possibilities with that are endless,” he said.
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