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George Comfort chief: Renovations at Stamford complex helped bring Philip Morris to city

Philip Morris International finally made official its choice of Stamford as the location of its new headquarters represented something of a milestone not just for the state and the city — but for asset and property management firm George Comfort & Sons as well.

“They were very appreciative of the renovations we did at the property (677 Washington Blvd.),” Comfort & Sons President and CEO Peter Duncan told the Business Journal, “as well as for the proximity to the train station and the city.”

Although Duncan allowed that PMI had shown some interest in Greenwich, he said the location near the Stamford Transportation Center and amenities available at 677 Washington were enough to win the company over.

PMI signed a 12-year lease that encompasses the entire 11th and 12th floors of the 13-story office tower, one of three buildings on a 12-acre complex. The company plans to occupy the new space in late 2022, which will involve relocating about 200 workers from Manhattan.

677 Washington Blvd. in Stamford. Photo courtesy Conway + Partners.

The building was completed in 1998 as the North American headquarters of UBS, which operated it for a number of years as the world’s largest column-less trading floor. But by 2016 the bank’s fortunes had reversed enough for it to abandon it in favor of smaller space at 600 Washington, also home to the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In 2017, Stamford Washington Investors LLC acquired the property for $33 million, with Comfort and AVG Partners acquiring it a year later. Amenities now include a conference center that can hold over 100 people, a fitness center and a cafeteria with a terrace on the fifth floor.

With the completion of the PMI deal — as well as recently signed transactions with XL Global Services Inc. (11 years for a 21,879-square-foot portion of the 10th floor), General Atlantic (21,879 square feet on the 8th floor) and Sandbrook Capital (10 years for 4,995 square feet on the 8th floor) — 677 is now roughly 95% occupied.

That figure includes the WWE, which has leased 415,000 square feet at the complex and is still in the process of relocating its headquarters there from 1241 E. Main St.

Duncan said that talks began with PMI soon after it announced in June its plans to move to “lower Fairfield County” from 120 Park Ave. in Manhattan. Gov. Ned Lamont, speaking at that June press conference, said that talks between PMI and the state had begun about 18 months prior to that.

At a Nov. 8 press event celebrating the move, PMI’s president of the Americas region, Deepak Mishra, said, “We really look forward to being a part of the community. This is an incredibly vibrant community that is innovation-focused and forward-thinking, and open-minded. Over time, we will … take advantage of the innovation environment that Connecticut as a state provides.”

“PMI is a company that’s reinventing itself,” Lamont remarked. “I’m so proud that they’ve called Connecticut home.”

That reinvention involves PMI’s continued move away from traditional cigarettes and toward such smoke-free products as IQOS. About 30% of the company’s revenue now comes from the smoke-free category, he said.

Meanwhile, Duncan said that his company is continuing to build-out 677 Washington, with plans to develop a 400-unit apartment building with an additional retail component on the property.

Why not more office space? “There’s quite a bit of office space in Stamford right now,” he said.

George Comfort & Sons will remain bullish on the city, Duncan added. “Stamford is viewed now as a great location. It proves that if you build the right product, people will come.”

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