After suggesting a special session of the Connecticut General Assembly in September to address jobs, summer arrived for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with Job One still hanging – finding a way to hang on to UBS in Stamford or find a replacement tenant by 2017 when its lease expires.
Speaking at the June annual meeting of the Stamford Downtown Special Services District, Malloy did not offer details on any negotiations that might be occurring between the state and UBS, after previously stating his administration had been in extensive contact with UBS. Days before, at the Bridgeport annual meeting of The Workplace Inc., Stamford’s economic development chief Laure Aubuchon said she had no further information to offer on any decision UBS might make.
Since the Wall Street Journal and New York Times put their imprimatur last month on rumors of a UBS departure that have been swirling for more than a year, the topic has dominated discussion at events throughout the city – particularly the question of what would happen to any void left by UBS in its massive downtown office building. Short of attracting another major financial trader – a daunting if not impossible prospect in the current economy – UBS’ massive trading bay would have to be rebuilt for other office use, which would take time to fill.
“I think it’s like any other space out there,” said one commercial real estate broker, who did not want to be identified. “I don’t think anyone would be rushing to their broker and saying, ‘Oh, I need that space.’ There’s a lot of buildings in Stamford that are just as nice.”
The big question is whether the opportunity to move into hundreds of thousands of square feet in Stamford by 2017 – presumably when the economy is well into the next business cycle – would prove the same draw that brought UBS in 1998 when the economy neared a peak, and in 2007 when Royal Bank of Scotland made the decision to establish a major office there adjacent to UBS.
In addition to the plethora of New York City companies that contemplate real estate leases of that size – only in May General Electric Co. signed a lease for 1.5 million square feet for the NBC Universal operations now controlled by Comcast Corp. – the Stamford space could represent a draw for major New Jersey and New England employers as well, with one intriguing prospect being RBS itself. Even as it occupied its new offices in Stamford a few years back, some real estate brokers speculated RBS might be interested in additional office space to accommodate more employees here. While the 2008 financial collapse may have stalled any such idea, UBS employees who live in Fairfield County might represent a potential recruitment opportunity for RBS.
What’s more, after RBS’ retail banking subsidiary Citizens Financial Group Inc. sold its Providence, R.I., headquarters building in 2005, the company took a 10-year lease to stay put at One Citizens Plaza, at the time occupying nearly 100,000 square feet of space (UBS itself recently leased nearly 20,000 square feet of space at One Citizens Plaza). With that lease renewal on the distant horizon, Citizens could represent a recruitment opportunity for the state of Connecticut, which most recently lavished nearly $100 million in incentives on Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. to move into Stamford from New York next year.
If a consolidation of its retail and investment banking operations in Stamford might appeal to Citizens Bank for the proximity it would provide to RBS’ U.S. base of operations and by extension New York City banking talent, a major argument against would be such a move taking Citizens Bank’s headquarters out of the heart of its retail branch network – in Fairfield County it operates just three branches.