The first step in Seven Stars Cloud Group’s plan to establish a headquarters for technology and innovation in West Hartford took place Friday when UConn’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved sale of the former regional campus for $5.2 million.
By Ronni Newton
Plans by Seven Stars Cloud Group, Inc. (SSC) to develop Chain Valley, its global headquarters for technology and innovation, took a step forward Friday with the unanimous approval by the UConn Board of Trustees to sell the former West Hartford campus, that includes five buildings and a large parking lot at the intersection of Asylum Avenue and Trout Brook Drive, to the fin-tech firm for $5.2 million.
On Tuesday, Seven Stars Cloud Group officially announced its plans to purchase the 58-acre campus in West Hartford for the $283 million project, which is expected to create 330 jobs in research, training, and business development over the next five years. According to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the project will receive a $10 million loan through the First Five Plus program for capital renovations, which can be forgiven if the job creation targets are met.
Seven Stars Cloud is a Nasdaq-listed global financial technology company that utilizes artificial intelligence and blockchain technology (a cryptographically secure chain of linked records originally developed for use with the cryptocurrency bitcoin) to digitally transform financial, industrial, media, and consumer assets.
Bruno Wu, chairman and chief executive officer of Seven Stars Cloud Group, joined Malloy at the State Capitol to announce the plans on Tuesday. He noted a desire to work with the Town of West Hartford on plans for the development.
“We also want to become a very good citizen of the West Hartford local community, because the campus is a beautiful piece of property,” Wu said in a statement. He said that plans, which have not been submitted to the town yet, include modernizing and reusing some of the existing buildings as well as adding to the property’s existing park-like appearance.
“We have already engaged the best architectural firms that would help us make sure that the campus will become more like a public park,” Wu said.
According to UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz, the purchase and sale agreement is expected to be signed next week, with a closing to be scheduled for early fall.
“Once the sale is complete, the company will take all of the risks to work with the town in permitting for the use they intend for it,” Scott Jordan, UConn’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said at Friday’s special meeting of the Board of Trustees.
SSC will not wait for West Hartford to approve development of its planned project before taking care of any necessary environmental work on the site.
Concern about environmental liability, particularly polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was one of the primary reasons why the Town of West Hartford terminated its purchase agreement for the property in December 2017. According to Jordan, Seven Stars is aware of the results of environmental testing and the existence of PCBs, which are commonly found in window caulking and other building materials from the era in which the campus buildings were constructed.
“They want it ‘as is’ now, which is great for us and they want to be a good neighbor for the Town of West Hartford,” Reitz said Tuesday.
As a condition of the sale, SSC has agreed to have a bank post a letter of credit of up to $8 million to provide financial security for the environmental clean-up, and the company has also agreed to purchase a pollution legal liability policy for the site.
SSC has agreed to honor the existing lease that the town has with UConn for the baseball fields and other recreational facilities on the site, which expire in June 2020 and have the option for another five-year extension. West Hartford Town Manager Matt Hart said last week that discussions with Seven Stars have included “preserving the recreational assets and perhaps adding to them.”
According to UConn, the $5.2 million that will be received from the sale cannot be used for personnel costs or other operating expenses, or as an offset to the funds that the state has cut from its annual block grant.
“Rather, the money must be applied to capital projects to meet state law and the requirements of the bonds that were issued for improvements to the West Hartford campus. Jordan said one of the projects that will be funded with the money is the removal of contaminants at the former site of the UConn Stamford garage, which the University demolished earlier this year to make way for surface parking,” a press release states.
Seven Stars will assume all maintenance and operating expenses for the property as of the closing, but the UConn Extension Service will remain in operation in the former Information Technologies Building, at no cost, through Nov. 29, the release states.
West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, who is a member of the UConn Board of Trustees, recused herself from the vote to avoid a conflict of interest. She has also recused herself from West Hartford Town Council discussions and votes related to the campus.
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