The Matrix Corporate Center, the former Union Carbide headquarters in Danbury, has been bought by Southport-based Summit Development for $17 million or $16 per square foot.
Summit’s plans for the complex at 39 Old Ridgebury Road, which has stood largely vacant for the past several months, call for converting it into a unique office, retail and residential complex.
The site, which originally included 650 acres when Union Carbide moved there from Manhattan in the 1980s, today consists of 100 acres, 25 of which are to be zoned for residential development. Summit plans to repurpose the building by subdividing it into 700,000 square feet of Class A office space; 400,000 square feet of residential apartments; 100,000 square feet of conference and event space; and 100,000 square feet of core services and amenities.
Summit Founder CEO, President and Principal Felix Charney said that redevelopment work on the interior of the corporate center – which will be renamed The Ridge at Danbury – should begin “almost immediately” and that he hoped work on the exterior and the surrounding roads, which will require permits from the city, would be underway soon. If all goes according to plan, Charney said, the site should be ready to accept new tenants in the first quarter of next year.
Charney said that he plans to offer the lowest Class A office rents in Fairfield and Westchester counties.
“Danbury is a really good office market and we had great success at Lee Farm,” he said, referring to the 215,000-square-foot building Summit sold last year for $31.75 million. “There’s a great highway system that allows for easy commuting to and from Westchester County and it has great proximity to a considerable labor pool.
Charney’s talent for identifying underperforming commercial properties in the Connecticut and New York area and successfully repositioning them includes not only Lee Farm, but also the Norden Systems plant in Norwalk, which was repurposed into a mixed-use residential and office complex; the abandoned Handy and Harmon factory in Fairfield, which was converted into a Whole Foods-anchored retail center; and his largest redevelopment project to date, the 114-acre former Reader’s Digest headquarters campus in Chappaqua, New York, which involved converting a 700,000-square-foot office building into Chappaqua Crossing, a multitenant, office-residential-retail center anchored by Whole Foods.
“I think companies are looking for better office rental options,” Charney said, “and we are uniquely positioned to supply the lowest Class A options within a 50-mile radius.”
Charney said that The Ridge has the capability of bringing 3,200 jobs to the city.
Summit will also work to make the move to The Ridge as inexpensive as possible, by offering free test fits, turnkey-buildout and covering moving expenses, Charney said. “Outside of furniture, IT and their communications systems, we will address the majority of their needs,” he said. “We want to make the move as painless as possible.”
Given Danbury’s proximity to the New York state border, the developer said Summit will target both Connecticut and New York companies to occupy The Ridge. “For brokers with New York state-based tenants, Connecticut is standing by to offer a long list of economic incentives to business relocating into the state,” Charney said.
In addition, Summit is working with commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield to launch a major leasing and marketing effort in both counties for the newly acquired space. “With stable ownership and a major reinvestment strategy, we are confident that we can kickstart the leasing activity and we’ll go from there,” he said.
“The current business climate has allowed Summit Development to acquire this property in an environment that will enable our team and the market to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to craft creative and economically attractive deals for a variety of all different commercial users,” said Adam Klimek, a senior director at Cushman & Wakefield. “It will be a game changer.”
The Ridge is surrounded by for-sale and for-rent residential developments encompassing 2,000 units with more than 4,000 residents. Charney said he believes the west side of Danbury is under-retailed. “We are exploring ways to address the shortage of daily needs for retail, entertainment and lifestyle experiences with the construction and installation of those services at or near our building.”
Built in 1983 at a cost of about $190 million, the building has gone through several iterations ever since. Union Carbide was bought for $7.3 billion by The Dow Chemical Co. in 2001, leading to a reduction of staff and subletting of space to other companies.
In 2007, now known as the Corporate Center, it was sold to commercial real estate broker Grubb & Ellis (now Newmark Knight Frank) for $80 million, which sold it in 2009 to Matrix Realty Group for $72.4 million, resulting in the Matrix Corporate Center name.
The building had fallen on hard times of late; Charney said it had dropped from roughly 70 percent occupancy a few years ago to about 15 percent today, as high-profile tenants like Praxair – once a part of Union Carbide – General Motors and Boehringer Ingelheim exited.
Still, he said, four new tenants are in “various stages of negotiations” for taking space at the building, and Christian nonprofit Guideposts, which had been threatening to relocate, has been convinced to remain.
Representing the seller, and procuring the buyer, were the CBRE team of Jeffrey Dunne, Steven Bardsley and Travis Langer.
As for the name change from the familiar Matrix to The Ridge, Charney said it was made to reflect “how we’re moving in a new direction. Plus it’s literally on a ridge, a hilltop, that’s highly visible from I-84 and other roads.
“Our skill is repurposing assets, not necessarily renaming them,” he added with a chuckle. “The name I’d really like it to have is ‘success.’”