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Charter revamps HQ design, presses ahead in expansion plan

March 29, 2019

STAMFORD — Charter Communications this week made a full-court press of a presentation to the Zoning Board to garner approvals of its fast-tracked pitch to build a second headquarters next door to the 15-story glass rectangle rising just south of Interstate 95.

For its two new buildings, Charter didn’t get approvals late Thursday — instead earning a continuance to April 8 — but appeared to garner enough goodwill and make enough changes to earlier plans that the board didn’t pounce on prior misgivings.

Earlier, the Planning Board sent a letter upbraiding Charter and developer Building and Land Technology for the building design, and several Zoning Board members, including Chair David Stein, questioned Charter’s plan to buy out an earlier pledge to include 500 parking spaces for train station commuters.

In response, Charter redesigned the nine-story addition and the three-story connecting building under consideration. The 15-story building now under construction was previously approved.

Both went from staid glass boxes to buildings with cut-outs, columns and facade elements such as “solar fins” that promise to change the buildings’ look through the day by casting shadows

“We had some comment back that it’s bland and it needs a little more life to it,” said Mike Daly, vice president of corporate real estate for the company.

“We’ve played around with these solar fins,” he said. “We tried to make it stand out architecturally but still blend in.”

Building and Land Technology, which is building the project and will lease the space to Charter for the long term, defended the parking space pullback and described how it could find commuters a place to park for the some 18 months they might be without one.

Charter would likely move in and take all the spaces before a new 1,000-space state garage opens in 2020.

BLT Chief Operating Officer Ted Ferrarone told the board it had nothing to worry about if it allows the 500 space reduction, saying there is unused supply in nearby garages. The company would buy out of the requirement for $6.6 million, some of which would be used to house the commuters displaced, BLT’s attorney William Hennessy said.

Ferrarone said BLT could work with the state Department of Transportation, which owns another parking garage near the Transportation Center, to reopen more than a hundred spaces closed indefinitely for repairs. There is also parking hiding in plain sight, Ferrarone said.

For example, there is a surface lot next to the state garage “that I didn’t even know about, but it’s primarily used by cabbies to hang out during the day,” Ferrarone said.

In a slide show to the board, Ferrarone also included photographs of empty garages near the train station, and said “that we’re just talking about commuter spaces near the train station. There are thousands of empty parking spaces in the city of Stamford, I read that, you know in the Bell Street garage, Summer Street garage.”

Board member Rosanne McManus, a train commuter, said none of the replacement spaces proffered are quite the same as what will taken away. Bell Street and Summer Street garages are downtown, a half-mile walk from the train.

“If you were running for a train, you don’t care about those garages,” McManus said.

Open spaces at private garages nearby don’t work either, she said. The spaces are open because of cost.

“I don’t call replacement spaces ones that are $100 more a month,” she said.

Public comment likely helped the telecommunications giant. Some 20 company employees attended the meeting and more than a dozen members of the public spoke in favor of the project.

Among the group was a varied ensemble of construction contractors now working on Charter’s HQ who sought more work.

“We want to thank you for the work we’re able to do,” said Brain Wilkerson, from firm Baker Concrete Construction.

“We are here today in support of Charter Communication’s second building as it will continue to provide jobs for many workers across Connecticut,” said Greg Weiner, vice president of Eastern Metal Works.

“We greatly support the project and moving forward with tower two,” said Chris Handley, a superintendent with Otis Elevator Co.

Charter itself employs some 1,300 people, about a fifth of whom live in the city, according to the company. With the the the expanded HQ — 777,000 square feet in total — the company could have some 3,000 in Stamford in coming years, said Mike Chowaniec, vice president of state government affairs.

“We’re here, and the good news is that we’re here earlier than expected,” he said.

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton

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