Could soon-to-be vacant Bristol-Myers property in Wallingford house Amazon’s second headquarters?

Could soon-to-be vacant Bristol-Myers property in Wallingford house Amazon’s second headquarters?


WALLINGFORD — Could Amazon choose the soon-to-be-vacant Bristol-Myers Squibb facility on Research Parkway to open a $5 billion headquarters?

That’s the question Tim Ryan, the town’s economic development specialist, asked last week when the Seattle-based corporation announced it will solicit bids from North American cities to open a second headquarters on the continent.

“As soon as we saw it, we embraced it,” Ryan said about a request for proposals put out by Amazon last week. The company gave cities six weeks to submit a proposal, with a winner expected to be announced in 2018.

Bristol-Myers, at 5 Research Parkway, announced in 2015 that it is leaving Connecticut as part of a nationwide restructuring of its operations. The company’s 916,000-square-foot lab complex sits on 180 acres. The company is expected to leave the property by 2018.

“Amazon is a big user and we have a big site, so you immediately start connecting the dots,” Ryan said this week.

Ryan called the company’s property broker and representatives from the state Department of Economic and Community Development last week after being contacted by some residents, including a town councilor, who asked about the likelihood Amazon could use the Bristol-Myers property.

But after looking closely at Amazon’s location requirements, Ryan quickly realized the property didn’t fit what the company is looking for.

“Could we tie something together? The long and the short of it is probably not,” Ryan said. “If you go through Amazon’s checklist, we don’t check off enough boxes.”

Amazon, according to its request for proposals, is looking to open the headquarters in an urban or downtown campus in a metropolitan area with at least 1 million people and a stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure.

The company is requiring an initial property size of 500,000 square feet, but would like to expand up to 8 million square feet, roughly the size of its first headquarters, according to Amazon.

The size of the Bristol-Myers property only offers 1 million square feet of building space, Ryan said, which can be expanded up to 3 million square feet. The site’s main building is 915,000 square feet, but the campus includes a day care center, central utility plant and materials handling building that combine to total around 75,000 square feet.

“The Bristol-Myers property, as big as it is, isn’t nearly big enough to fit what Amazon is trying to do,” Ryan said. “Most people can’t even wrap their minds around how big (an eight million-square-foot facility) is.”

Jim Watson, a spokesman for the Department of Economic and Community Development, said the state plans to submit a proposal to Amazon. He did not offer details.

Ryan said officials he has spoken with told him “the likelihood that Connecticut would get this is pretty far-fetched.”

Other cities like Pittsburgh, Boston and Toronto have been mentioned as contenders to land the second Amazon headquarters.

The Bristol-Myers facility has received little interest despite “robust” marketing efforts, property broker James Panczykowski said in February.

“I wish we could say we’ve been successful … but it’s not the case,” he said at the time.

Bristol-Myers was in negotiations with a boarding school for the property, but a zoning amendment approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission earlier this year prevents the school from purchasing the property, the company said.

The commission voted to eliminate education as an accepted land use in the I-5 and I-X zones, where the Bristol-Myers property is located. The zoning amendment was proposed by Ryan and members of the Economic Development Commission, who said the educational use is not the intended use of the industrial zones.

Bristol-Myers spokeswoman Lisa Mccormick Lavery previously said “the rezoning puts future sales opportunities in jeopardy and may inhibit our ability to repurpose the site as an integrated part of the community.”

Bristol-Myers filed a court appeal of the commission’s decision earlier this year. A trial is scheduled for December.

Bristol-Myers, the town’s top taxpayer, paid $2.3 million on its property in 2015, according to tax assessor Shelby Jackson.

When Panczykowski markets the property, he puts prospective buyers into one of three categories, he said in February — a “similar use” suitor who would use the building in its existing state; an “alternative user,” such as a university, that would repurpose the building for a different use; and a developer who wants to take on risk by investing in the property.

“We always try to get the ideal user, sometimes we get the alternative user and in some cases it ends up being a developer,” Panczykowski said at the time.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Panczykowski referred questions about the property to Bristol-Myers.

Ryan said finding a suitor for the building, which was designed specifically for pharmaceutical use, can be difficult because the pharmaceutical industry’s model has changed with many companies now downsizing operations.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced Tuesday that it will move its headquarters from New Haven to Boston and lay off 20 percent of its global workforce.

If a buyer looked to spend money to repurpose the Bristol-Myers property for another use, Ryan said, that would need to be reflected in the pricing.

The state’s economic turmoil deters developers from pursuing the property, Ryan added.

“Developers are very concerned about taking risks given the state of the Connecticut economy,” he said. “There’s a risk tolerance that each developer has going into a project and the risk tolerance is lower because of the state’s economy.” 203-317-2279 Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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