Sacred Heart University to buy former GE headquarters for $31.5 million

By Kevin Zimmerman

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Sacred Heart University announced on Nov. 21 that it had entered into an agreement with General Electric to buy its 66-acre former global headquarters in Fairfield for $31.5 million.

“With this property, SHU has a unique opportunity to contribute to education, research, health care and the community,” college President John J. Petillo said in a statement. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us, and it also reflects our long-standing relationship with GE that includes former GE CEO Jack Welch, for whom our College of Business is named.”

The former site of GE’s global headquarters in Fairfield, Conn. The former site of GE’s global headquarters in Fairfield.

“We are pleased to sell our property to a world-class local university and are happy that the campus will continue to be used for learning and innovation, two hallmarks of both GE and Sacred Heart,” said Harri Singh, GE global properties leader.

“‘Transformational’ is a word used loosely,” SHU Senior Vice President for Finance & Administration Michael Kinney said, “but it is certainly the case here.”

Kinney said $31.5 million is essentially the cost of an average-size academic building, but in this case includes roughly 550,000 square feet of existing buildings, 800 parking spaces (700 of which are covered), and ample opportunity for becoming home to several of the university’s departments. The purchase will bring the total acreage of Sacred Heart’s campus to nearly 200 acres, not including the 150-acre Great River Golf Club it bought last year.

“This is going to be great for the community and for everyone around here,” Kinney said. “The surrounding community will also benefit. The growth we will experience as a result of this purchase will increase consumer spending in the community by Sacred Heart students and parents — a number that already stands at close to $56 million in the state.”

Plans call for SHU to expand its new School of Computing, which is focused on computer engineering, computer gaming and cybersecurity, and to develop programs in STEM fields such as health and life sciences, science and technology. The university will also move certain elements of its Jack Welch College of Business to the new campus, including its hospitality management program that will make use of facilities both at the GE site and at the Great River Golf Club in Milford.

The university also plans to move its College of Education, art and design program and its business office to the site, eliminating the need to rent space in Trumbull. Future plans could include a performing arts space/recital hall, a swimming pool and running trails and incubator space that would allow students, in conjunction with investors and area businesses, to develop ideas for new products and programs.

“Programs developed by SHU in the next four years could add 450 students and 50 to 60 new faculty and staff,” Kinney said. “New direct and indirect spending driven by operational and capital spending by the university, its employees, new students and their families and visitors would be a minimum of $27 million to $33 million annually.” With the purchase by SHU, a nonprofit entity, Fairfield will also receive payments from the state’s PILOT program.

Kinney said the university had been looking for new sites for the College of Education for a number of months before deciding to tour the Fairfield property, abandoned by GE in favor of relocating to Boston.

“The entire process took about three to four months,” he said. “We took a walk-through and then entered discussions with GE.”

Over 25 parties toured the campus according to a GE spokesperson, who declined to say how many offers had been made to acquire the property.

Several of SHU’s moves are expected to take place during the next 12 months, Kinney said, noting that the deal is contingent upon approval by the town of Fairfield and the ability of the university to raise the funds needed for the projects he outlined; he declined to estimate what those costs could be.

Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau was not immediately available for comment.

The SHU deal appears to leave Fairfield University and local developer Kleban Properties out in the cold. In March the pair announced an exclusive agreement to renovate and develop the property as a high-tech hub that would encompass health care-related technology, an executive education center, and additional features aimed at drawing big-name corporations to Fairfield contingent on their ability to acquire the property from GE.

“I’m prepared to offer whatever it takes — within reason — to buy it,” Chairman Albert Kleban said at that time.

Fairfield University did not return calls for comment, but Albert Kleban issued a statement later in the day.

“We are happy that Sacred Heart University will be using the location to enhance their current programs and uplift the community with their vision,” Kleban said. “We continue to look for opportunities to participate in developing properties in Fairfield that will serve the residents and the business community.”

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