The Town of West Hartford has the first right of refusal if there are any offers to purchase the former UConn campus, now owned by Ideanomics/Fintech Village, which is being marketed for sale.
By Ronni Newton
The Town of West Hartford is continuing to take another look at purchasing the former 58-acre UConn campus at the intersection of Asylum Avenue and Trout Brook Drive, and has been maintaining the grounds and having outside counsel assist with a due diligence process while a contract allowing first right of refusal remains in effect through the end of 2020.
Ideanomics, which purchased the property two years ago for the purpose of creating the global technology center Fintech Village, recently engaged Colliers International for assistance in selling the 1700 and 1800 Asylum Ave. parcels.
“We put it out to market, and we have been talking with developers,” said John Cafasso, principal with Colliers International in Hartford. He told We-Ha.com that the property was publicly listed just before Labor Day.
“We’re going out un-priced, looking for bids from developers,” Cafasso said.
“Our understanding is that they would certainly consider offers from various parties, but they just weren’t in a position to market it,” Town Manager Matt Hart said.
Cafasso said there had previously been some developers speaking directly with Ideanomics, and said there is current interest in the property.
In late June, the Town Council approved a resolution, which took effect July 1, allowing Hart to enter into a contract with Fintech Village, Inc./Ideanomics to give the town first right of refusal should there be an offer on the property. The agreement also allowed the town continued use of the ballfields and playgrounds on the east side of Trout Brook Drive, and the town agreed to assume Fintech Village’s responsibility for maintenance of the grounds, which had become overgrown.
Under the terms of the right of first refusal, Hart told the Council in June, “The town would have the ability to match any offer that Fintech Village might receive to purchase both parcels, as well as an offer they may receive to purchase one of those parcels individually.”
Robinson & Cole is currently assisting the town in determining the value of the property and the status of the remediation efforts, Hart said, as well as exploring any state or federal grant programs and/or protections that may now apply to the clean-up of the contamination, to assist the town in determining whether or not it makes sense to purchase it.
Hart did not have an update late last week on the status of Robinson & Cole’s work. “I hope to report to Council later this month or at the beginning of October,” he said.
“We’re actually discussion it at the staff level. It’s a very important project for us,” Hart said. “We want to see to what extent Ideanomics was able to advance the ball with respect to remediation.”
One of the five buildings on the former campus was demolished by Ideanomics’ contractor last year, and some degree of remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and asbestos has taken place in other buildings.
Construction fencing has recently been installed on one portion of the property, at the northwest corner of Asylum Avenue and Trout Brook Drive, but Hart said that is completely unrelated and is a project being undertaken by contractor R.H. White on behalf of Connecticut Natural Gas (CNG).
“They are replacing the regulator vaults and associated equipment,” Hart said in an email Tuesday. “Work began in mid-August and is expected to be completed around the end of September. This work is a priority for CNG as it needs to be completed before the start of the heating season.” [Editor’s Note: This information has been updated to correct information provided to We-Ha.com that work was being performed on behalf of the Metropolitan District Commission.]
In both its year-end financial report released in March 2020, as well as in the company’s first quarter financial report, released in May, Ideanomics stated: “The company has identified Fintech Village as a non-core asset and is evaluating its strategies for divesting of this asset.”
Ideanomics purchased the 58-acre former UConn campus “as is” for $5.2 million in October 2018, with the intention of to building Fintech Village – a $400 million center for global technology and innovation – on the property, and creating jobs for upwards of 300 people. They committed to assume all responsibility for remediation of the contamination which occurred when the state owned the property and constructed the buildings for UConn.
A $10 million loan through former Gov. Dannel Malloy’s First Five Plus program for capital renovations, which could have been forgivable if job creation targets were met, was part of the original plan but the project never reached a stage where the funds were provided.
The project ultimately stalled for a host of reasons, and in the most recent financial report Ideanomics noted that the company is shifting its focus from financial services to the Electric Vehicle sector. The company has been publicly touting success in the Chinese EV market.
In March, Ideanomics CEO and Fintech Village President Alf Poor told We-Ha.com that the company was seeking potential partners for the Fintech Village project. Hart said that it was a mutual decision this spring between the town and Ideanomics to begin crafting the agreement which took effect July 1.
UConn initially announced its plans to relocate its Greater Hartford campus downtown in 2012, and although the town ultimately chose not to purchase the campus several years ago, it undertook a robust community engagement process to develop a vision statement for the property, which was adopted by the Town Council in April 2018.
Hart said there are valid reasons for the town to take another look at purchasing the property, including the fact that it contains recreational assets – four ball fields, including the Miracle League field – that the town has had use of for many years. The property is also strategically located in town.
“We hope to bring in a qualified developer that wants to be part of the community,” Cafasso said. “This is one of the last large tracts of land in Central Connecticut.”
The flier created by Colliers for the property (see below) notes that it is “zoned for single family development with multifamily or office potential.”
Any changes to the existing single-family zoning would require approval of the Town Council. Other challenges to development include the fact that much of it is wetlands, and remediation of contaminants needs to be completed.
Hart said the only recent communication he has had with Fintech Village/Ideanomics was in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias, when the company allowed the town to use the parking lot on the east side of Trout Brook Drive as a temporary collection site for storm debris.
For information and background about West Hartford’s previous history with the campus, the purchase plans, and interviews with Ideanomics principals, click here.
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