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CT Construction Digest Thursday May 27, 2021

Danbury approves $36 million rehabilitation hospital in a west side residential development

Rob Ryser

DANBURY - The city has given the green light for a $36 million rehabilitation hospital on a 13-acre site within the sprawling residential development known as The Reserve.

The rehabilitation hospital, the first in the Danbury area, would be built near the front gate of the 1.2 million-square-foot office park known as The Summit on the city’s booming west side.

“The state of Connecticut is one of the most under-bedded for inpatient rehab hospitals in the country, and we’re looking to change that,” said Patrick Tuer, president of the northeast region at Encompass Health, an Alabama-based company with 139 rehabilitation hospitals across the country. “We provide an intermediate level of care between what Danbury Hospital provides and what skilled nursing homes provide.”

The 100,000-square-foot proposal near the New York border was approved Tuesday night by Danbury’s Zoning Commission and is awaiting a determination by the state Department of Health, known as a certificate of need.

It was not immediately clear on Wednesday when the state would schedule a public hearing on the Encompass proposal. An attorney representing the healthcare organization said a hearing could come as soon as the summer, with a ruling expected in the fall.

“Hospitals across the country have really been hit hard - and one of the ways we help them is to control their length of stay,” Tuer told members Zoning Commission during a public hearing Tuesday night. “We have not only rehab and physical medicine but internal medicine, nephrology, cardiology, infectious disease, pulmonary and critical care. It is a significantly higher level of care than a nursing home.”

Encompass will submit blueprints to Danbury’s Planning Department for review. Within the first year, the rehab hospital is expected to create 70 full-time jobs that pay an average of $75,000 annually.

The rehabilitation hospital is the latest development for the 550-acre residential subdivision known as The Reserve. Of 2,160 condominiums and apartments that have been approved, 1,980 housing units have been built or are under construction. Of 380,000-square-feet of commercial space that’s been approved, 143,000-square feet have been built or are under construction. Among the commercial space that’s been developed is Hotel Zero.

Next door to The Reserve is The Summit residential and corporate park, the former Union Carbide world headquarters, where city leaders have struck a deal with the owners to create an upper grade academy for 1,400 students - a first for the state.

The rehabilitation hospital would replace plans for a 100,000-square-foot office building that were already approved. The medical use would attract less traffic to the neighborhood, company representatives told the Zoning Commission.

Under the plan, Encompass Health would buy the 13 acres on Reserve Road and build into the hillside with two retaining walls.

The facility would serve people who have suffered strokes, heart attacks, and neurological ailments by providing physical rehabilitation, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

“It’s important to note what this facility isn’t - the facility does not offer drug, alcohol or mental rehabilitation,” Encompass attorney Ward Mazzucco said at Tuesday night’s public hearing. “Patients are transfered from an acute hospital such as Danbury Hospital on a non-emergency, basis so there are no sirens.”

Yale inks deal for space in new 101 College St. biotech tower in New Haven

Luther Turmelle

NEW HAVEN — Construction hasn’t even started on a new 10-story biotech tower planned for 101 College St., yet the building already has its second anchor tenant.

Yale University officials announced the school has signed a lease for 125,000 square feet across three floors. The university also is providing financial backing for a biotech incubator to be located at the site.

The first tenant for 101 College St., New Haven-based Arvinas, announced earlier this month it signed a 10-year lease to occupy about 160,000 square feet in the 525,000-square foot-building. Arvinas currently is based in the city’s Science Park complex.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the 101 College St. project is scheduled for June 7.

University Provost Scott Strobel said Yale’s investment is part of the school’s effort to improve “our STEM entrepreneur and innovation ecosystem, including our core facilities,” which “are central tenets of our university science strategy.”

“Our investment in 101 College Street attends to those and many other current and future needs,” said Strobel, the school’s Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry. “It’s a wonderful chance to work with our partners in New Haven to continue to create a vibrant, attractive innovation hub that draws talented people and great ideas to our region.”

Taking space in the building, he said, will help Yale achieve its goal to create what he called “intersectional spaces at Yale.”

“Those intersections are often where the best ideas and collaborations occur,” Strobel said. “This project does that in a lot of ways — it opens up exciting new possibilities ... in the startup and biomedical communities. We believe it will be a great draw as we look to attract and broaden the diverse talent pool of students, faculty, staff, investors and businesses to the area.”

The biotech incubator for which Yale is providing financial backing will be run by BioLabs, a Cambridge-based company that specializes in managing coworking space for life science startups.

The 101 College St. biotech tower will be located across the street from the current home of Yale spinoff Alexion Pharmaceuticals and the future home of Yale’s new Wu Tsai Institute, a research organization that will bridge the psychological, biological and computational sciences. The institute will move into the building by the third quarter of 2022.

The building at 101 College St. is the latest part of the city’s Downtown Crossing revitalization project, designed to reclaim a section of the city that was designed for roadways, in order to link downtown to western suburbs.

Wallingford negotiating deal to bring major data centers to town

Luther Turmelle

WALLINGFORD — Town officials are negotiating a deal with a Groton-based company to bring one or possibly two data centers to the area along the Interstate 91 corridor.

The project could mean development for more than 250 acres and hundreds of thousands of square feet of facility space, and the company is looking at additional sites in Connecticut, as well.

Gotspace Data LLC is looking at two sites, according to Tim Ryan, the town’s economic development coordinator.

One is 57-acre tract off Williams Road near the Interstate 91 and Route 68 interchange, where the company wants to build a two-story, 157,000-square-foot data center. The other is a 205-acre site on North Farms Road bordering Meriden, Tankwood Road and Route 15, where the company would build a 313,672-square-foot data center.

Gotspace Data’s website lists eight data centers the company is exploring building in Wallingford, Groton, Bozrah, Norwich and Griswold — all towns with municipally-owned electric companies, meaning the cost of electricity typically is less expensive.

Gotspace Data’s principals are Rhode Island-based developer Thomas Quinn and Nick Fiorillo, a property manager from the Boston area. The company was founded earlier this year in Boston.

Quinn and Gotspace’s local attorney, former state senator Len Fasano, appeared before the Wallingford Town Council in a special meeting last week. Fasano said having a data center located in a community gives the municipality “a business advantage” in terms of attracting other businesses.

“This is an opportunity for Connecticut to be a hub ... for something that will produce revenues for at least 20 to 30 years,” Fasano told council members.

Quinn said having multiple data centers in Connecticut would fill a void between Boston and New York City. And building the facilities in Connecticut communities with municipal power companies is cheaper than doing it in Massachusetts, he said.

“The cost of power in Massachusetts is $15 million to $17 million more,” he said. “We believe we have a good opportunity for Connecticut to become a new corridor for data in the region. What’s very nice about the Wallingford area … is you have fiber (optic) cable all along I-91.”

Joseph Mirra, chairman of the community’s Economic Development Commission, said the centers would create about 70 permanent jobs in addition to the construction jobs that would be created were an agreement reached to build the facilities.

Both Mirra and Ryan said Quinn told the council that if the data centers were built, other business likely would come to Wallingford, multiplying the project’s economic impact.

Ryan said the commission is “supportive (of the plan) and encouraged by the amount of opportunity” that is expected to come with it.

“But there is a fair amount of due diligence that still has to be done,” Ryan said. Among the considerations town officials have to explore, he said, are the environmental impact the data centers would have as well as noise levels associated with around-the-clock operation of the facilities.

About a half-dozen residents raised concerns about Gotspace’s plans.

Ed Bradley and Jessica Polansky said both proposed sites are located very close to residential neighborhoods.

“You right on the back of residential areas that are in the water protection district for Wallingford,” Bradley said. “It is within the watershed for MacKenzie Reservoir; the Muddy River runs through your site and its the largest water supply for the town. That watershed supplies 94 percent of town’s water supply.”

Quinn said if Gotspace decides to build a data center at the Williams Road site, “it will be a clean, contained site.”

“Everything there will be the best of the best,” he said.

Jeff Kohan, a member of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said he is concerned the company is a startup that is building the data centers “on spec,” meaning Gotspace doesn’t have any companies committed to the facilities.

“You don’t have any customers right now,” Kohan said

Fasano said Gotspace is actively “talking to people” about taking up the space in the data center.

“There is a hosting agreement that is being negotiated in real time with the the town,” he said. “You can’t go out and make firm deals unless you’ve got these other things in place.”

Mirra said the town and Gotspace “are close to a deal.”

“They are still working on the parameters, but it looks good that we may be able to get something done,” he said of the negotiations.

Quinn said Gotspace has not started construction on any of the Connecticut towns that it is considering for data center locations.

“We can not build six buildings at once,” he said. “I would anticipate that we would start (construction on) a single building and then a second building within six months after that.”

A data center is a facility that used to house computer systems and components that make it work, and allows networking with other computers. It includes such components as telecommunications equipment and storage systems.

Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman told Hearst Connecticut Media in February that Connecticut already has between five and 10 data centers, but the existing one largely are aging facilities.

Data centers essentially are an element of cloud computing, which allows data to be stored away from a user’s computer; users access the data through the internet.

Ryan said Gotspace officials have committed to pay for all of the infrastructure improvements associated with getting the facilities up and running. Mirra said that will involve what he termed “major improvements to the town’s facilities.”

Data centers typically use large amounts of electricity, so the town’s electric division likely would see an as yet undetermined increase in revenues for providing the power to the data centers if they are built, according to Mirra.

But because of new legislation signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont in March, the main way revenues would flow to the communities where data centers are located would be through host agreements with Gotspace rather than traditional taxation methods.

Fasano said the “hosting agreement is in lieu of property taxes.”

“But the hosting agreement is much greater than the property taxes,” he said.

The legislation Lamont signed into law was House Bill 6514. According to an analysis done by the General Assembly’s non-partisan Office of Legislative Research, it provides the following incentives:

 Sales and use tax exemptions for certain goods and services purchased or used by the data center.

 Property tax exemptions for certain real property and equipment used by the data center.

 An exemption for financial transactions taxes that the state may impose in the future.

The new rules also authorize the Department of Economic and Community Development to enter into agreements with data center developers. DECD may enter into tax incentive agreements with qualified data centers for 20- or 30-year terms, depending on the size and location of the data centers, according to the analysis of the legislation.

To qualify for these incentives, data center developers must agree to make an investment of at least $50 million if the data center is located in an enterprise zone or a federal opportunity zone, or $200 million if it is located elsewhere.

The legislation also requires the creation an Office of Data Infrastructure Administration and Security within DECD. Officials in the new agency would oversee the application process and assist applicants.

The office will be funded by annual payments from qualified data centers.

Goodwin Univ. plans office building on E. Hartford's Main and High streets

Sean Teehan 

Goodwin University is looking for a contractor for an office building project it's planning at the former East Hartford Tire site on Main and High streets in East Hartford.

Town officials approved a site plan for the 14,000-square-foot building at 339 Main St. and 1 High St., and Goodwin has a prospective tenant that will likely move into the building once construction is complete, said Todd Andrews, Goodwin's senior vice president.

"We are proceeding with the hiring of a contractor," Andrews said. 

Andrews did not identify the prospective tenant, because they don't yet have a formal agreement with Goodwin, he said. If the permitting process goes smoothly, Andrews said, construction can start in mid- to late-summer, and would be finished about a year after that.

Goodwin acquired the property a couple of years ago, Andrews said, and demolished the blighted building after doing environmental cleanup necessary to prevent years of oil and other toxic agents from leaking into the soil. Andrews added that office space is likely a better use of the property, which abuts a condominium complex.

The project represents the latest expansion and commercial development Goodwin is embarking on. Earlier this week Goodwin said it completed its expansion into Bridgeport, with its purchase of the University of Bridgeport and its programs. Additionally, Goodwin opened a new $8 million commercial building on Main and Ensign streets. Tenants include East Hartford-based American Eagle Financial Credit Union and Rebel Dog Coffee.

White House to face key decisions on climate, elder care if bipartisan deal with GOP emerges

Jeff Stein Tony Romm

President Biden is expected to soon face crucial decisions over his domestic agenda as his commitment to aggressive action on climate change and care for the elderly collides with his push for a bipartisan infrastructure deal.

In multiple rounds of talks, Republican lawmakers have held firm in opposition against key White House plans to address the changing climate, add $400 billion in funding for elder care, and a slew of other domestic priorities the administration is pushing for families and children. The GOP is set to affirm its opposition on Thursday about 9 a.m., when lawmakers led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) are expected to present Biden their latest counter-offer. This could amount to a plan as large as $1 trillion that Republicans have said would be focused on roads, bridges, pipes and other forms of traditional infrastructure.

A second bipartisan group of lawmakers, meanwhile, is readying its own backup plan that is also likely to jettison some key climate and elder-care policies pushed by the White House. If centrists in both parties strike a deal, Biden probably would be forced to choose between accepting a compromise that leaves out these proposals, or rejecting a bipartisan infrastructure deal aides have long sought as a political triumph.

If they choose to embrace a narrower package, senior Democrats have said they would come back after the bipartisan deal and pass an additional package with the remaining priorities. But concerns have grown among some allies of the White House that doing so will prove difficult in a narrowly divided Congress.

Complicating matters is that some of Democrats’ climate goals could be accomplished through separate bipartisan negotiations occurring at the committee level among lawmakers. And passing infrastructure or climate legislation with Democratic-only votes could present its own challenges, given the limits around the budget procedure they would need to use to pass legislation with a narrow majority.

The White House has proposed an approximately $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan that includes the elder-care and clean energy components, as well as a second $1.8 trillion plan focused on education, health care, and other domestic priorities. Negotiations between the White House and Republicans over the infrastructure plan have appeared to stall in recent weeks, leading Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to start bipartisan discussions on a potential compromise. Romney said Tuesday that the group would focus on physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, trains and broadband Internet. Other informal groups of centrist lawmakers are also working on a potential compromise.

Liberals and environmental groups are wary that a narrow infrastructure deal now may lead centrist lawmakers to lose interest in advancing other expensive legislation, which could leave climate and other progressive priorities on the cutting-room floor. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has pushed for the White House to combine the infrastructure and families plan into one overarching package. Leah Hunt-Hendrix, co-founder of Way to Win, a network of progressive political donors, said the White House should stop “dancing around bipartisanship” given GOP opposition to confronting climate change.

“They’re going to try to sell us on the idea that they’ll do the leftovers as part of a bigger package, but the truth is that there’s an enormous amount of speculation and nobody really knows what they’ll be able to do,” one White House adviser said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reveal conversations with administration officials.

A bloc of centrist Democrats has been adamant that the White House seek a bipartisan infrastructure deal, which may give the administration little wiggle room to try passing one without GOP votes.

The White House rejects the idea that it is willing to leave action on climate unaddressed in negotiations with Congress. The White House counter-offer to the GOP last week lowered the overall price tag of the proposal but maintained both the elder-care and climate-related components. Biden repeatedly has emphasized the danger posed by climate change, and longtime aides say the president is personally committed to aggressive action on the issue.

The decisions over the president’s economic agenda are expected to fall to the president and a handful of his most senior political advisers, including Chief of Staff Ron Klain and longtime Biden aide Steve Ricchetti. Many environmentalists closely watching the negotiations are optimistic that Klain — a longtime climate hawk — would not accept legislative action that leaves out meaningful climate action.

“I could be wrong and could eat my words but I believe, deeply, that the White House is committed to climate action. We have people there who really care about the climate issue,” said Leah Stokes, an expert in environmental policy at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Other close observers of the negotiations express confidence that substantial climate action is likely, despite potential reluctance from centrist Democrats over the amount of federal spending approved by the federal government. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the most conservative Democrat, has already been outspoken about legislation to encourage the building of clean-energy plants in coal communities, noted Josh Freed, who leads the climate and energy program at Third Way, a center-left think tank. Centrist Democrats also have pushed legislation including $2 billion for electric charging infrastructure, and Manchin has endorsed other significant clean-energy tax credits and advanced manufacturing.

“I am confident that if there is a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, there is still an enormous amount that will get done through reconciliation,” Freed said.

That could be easier said than done, however. If a narrow bipartisan infrastructure package is passed, Democrats may have the votes to pass some parts of the families package — such as paid parental leave and an extension of the child tax benefit set to expire at the end of this year — but not aggressive climate action, said G. William Hoagland, a former Senate GOP aide now with the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“I don’t think the votes are there in a reconciliation bill for the climate infrastructure-type issues,” Hoagland said.

Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), who leads a climate-focused task force with the moderate-leaning New Democrat Coalition, said she did not “think they’re there yet” on abandoning talks with Republicans over infrastructure overhaul, cautioning that the process takes time. But she said she thinks it’s unwise to shift clean-energy provisions out of the legislation in a bid to seek compromise given the importance of that spending to the future of the economy — and the difficulty Democrats may face in tackling it later on.

“There’s no question an infrastructure package at this point in time has to include those green jobs, sustainable energy projects, electric vehicles — there’s no question in my mind,” she said, later adding: “The problem with not including them is you run the risk they never happen.”

Dean Baker, a liberal economist, pointed out that if centrists such as Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) oppose the broader spending package, then Biden would not be able to pass it with or without a bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Senate is split 50-50, giving Democrats only a one-vote margin because of Vice President Harris’s ability to break a tie.

“Manchin has a veto here, so if he’s not on board with doing a big bill through reconciliation, [Biden] is not giving anything up by doing a more narrow infrastructure package in a bipartisan way,” Baker said.