2017 Year-in-review of Greenwich business news

December 31, 2017 GMT

A 2017 year-in-review of Greenwich business news:

Greenwich launches town marketing campaign, changes name to ‘Think Greenwich’

By a single deciding vote of 201 total cast, the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting approved including $30,000 in the municipal budget to be allocated for a private-public partnership funding a town marketing campaign that’s since been branded Think Greenwich. The concept arose as the brainchild of First Selectman Peter Tesei’s Economic Advisory Committee, which is composed of local business people appointed by Tesei. Early on in 2017, the committee began presenting the idea of hiring a public relations firm to highlight Greenwich’s positive aspects and combat negative news. The initiative is funded by both taxpayers and private institutions and individuals. While attracting strong support from some around town, it has also faced harsh criticisms, particularly for how difficult it will be to measure its value, some said. In September, New York City-based Lou Hammond Group began its contract running the campaign. The company earns $10,000 per month to run Think Greenwich.


In vote of consumer confidence, Dow tops 20,000 and keeps going

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average cresting above 20,000 for the first time on Jan. 25, stocks continued a sustained run in 2017, with the Dow entering December above 23,500, more than triple the index’s value from its nadir in October 2009. The climb mirrored increased business confidence nationally — if not so much in Connecticut where the job recovery remains anemic — and put plenty of extra cash in the pockets of investors that has trickled into the real estate, retail and services industries among others. Heading into 2018, investment publications abound with speculation on whether the market is peaking or if business expansion will keep the arrow pointing up.

Amazon stuns retail industry, swallows Whole Foods

Amazon made its next major move to upend the retail industry in mid-June by unveiling its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market, promising to combine its digital prowess with Whole Foods’ presence and reputation to transform the grocery industry. Amazon picked up Whole Foods stores in Norwalk, Darien, Westport, Greenwich, Fairfield, Milford and Danbury. Starting with across-the-board price cuts welcomed by Whole Foods customers, Amazon is gradually rolling out other new perks including additional discounts for Amazon Prime subscribers and in-store lockers for Amazon customers to pick up merchandise.


Retail flounders nationally, southwestern Connecticut highlighted for mall build

As brick-and-mortar retail suffered one of its worst years since the 2008 financial crisis by number of bankruptcies and storefront closures, Chicago-based developer GGP broke ground in Norwalk on what its CEO predicted could be one of the last malls built in America for a decade. The $525 million project ranks as Norwalk’s biggest ever. Located just off Interstate 95, SoNo Collection will include anchor tenants Bloomindale’s and Nordstrom along with roughly 80 other retailers and a food court. With a slated completion date of fall 2019, SoNo Collection has the potential to compete with southwestern Connecticut’s other retail hubs, though many in the regional industry said they’re optimistic that the new mall will be a benefit.

High-profile brands depart Greenwich Avenue, others launch new ventures

To the shock and dismay of many, luxury brand Ralph Lauren quietly shuttered its posh Greenwich Avenue storefront in late April. The 19,000 square foot shop still stands empty with matte gray wrapping coverings its windows. The brand departed weeks after it announced plans to close 50 stores nationally and cut 1,000 jobs. Around the same time, fellow luxury retailer Michael Kors opted again re-signing its nearby lease amid broad cost-cutting measures and vacated the shop after Greenwich Avenue’s annual Sidewalk Sales. A rash of other brands followed suit, shuttering their downtown storefronts to the concern of some Greenwich retailers. At the same time, a handful of brands launched new ventures in downtown Greenwich such as: Hobbs London; menswear retailer Bonobos; New Zealand menswear brand Rodd & Gunn; Nantucket-based eatery Something Natural and Saks continued its expansion of boutique-style shops.

Equifax fail highlights Americans’ exposure to data, identity theft

Before September, the name of major consumer credit reporting agency Equifax remained largely under the radar. Since the revelation of a massive hack of its computer systems — exposing personal information of one of every two Americans to identity thieves — Equifax hasn’t been able to escape headlines as it’s become the poster company for corporations failing to protect the data they collect and store in their digital vaults. Former CEO Richard Smith submitted to questioning on Capitol Hill to explain why his company failed to encrypt data and waited for weeks before alerting consumers, alongside former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is among those seeking legislation to hold executives accountable for lapses in safeguarding consumer information.

Greenwich’s average home sale price driven up by cluster of luxury deals

With four homes fetching price tags above $20 million, 2017 set a record for the most $20 million-plus sales within one year in Greenwich’s history. Overall, Greenwich’s luxury housing market performed notably well in 2017; so well that Greenwich’s average sale price rose from $2.2 million to $2.57 million, per an analysis published in early December by Greenwich Realtor Mark Pruner of Berkshire Hathaway N.E. Properties. Buried in many of these homes’ complex market histories are even larger asking prices, massive discounts and lengthy waiting periods before finding a buyer at drastically reduced prices. According to many real estate analysts, 2017 may appear in hindsight as a turning point in the Greenwich housing market as home sellers “get realistic” with their pricing.

Hedge fund sells backcountry Greenwich property to private school, moves to Stamford

Hedge fund Tudor Investment Corp., the Greenwich firm founded by industry powerhouse Paul Tudor Jones sold its 43 acres of Greenwich property on King Street to neighboring Brunswick School for $34 million this summer. There, Brunswick plans to open new facilities in September 2018 while Tudor will move its offices to downtown Stamford, where it signed a lease at 200 East Elm St. The financial firm plans to move to its new, 24,000 square-foot home in April.

Office building once boasting world’s largest trading floor still ranks as biggest vacancy

As Stamford grapples with an office vacancy rate of 30 percent, primarily due to a handful of mostly empty buildings, the former home of UBS, 677 Washington Blvd., remains the city’s largest vacancy. For months, giant signs featuring a phone number to call with lease inquiries has been plastered across its facade facing Interstate 95. Recently, an equally large banner has joined it highlighting Henkel moving its North American consumer goods headquarters from Scottsdale, Ariz., into the downtown offices at 200 Elm St. In December, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based investment firm that owns the 677 Washington Blvd’s approximately 700,000-square-foot building bought the underlying land for $33 million.

Trump signs new tax plan, region discusses impact on housing market

After several efforts to repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act failed earlier in 2017, President Donald Trump signed into law one of the first key pieces of legislation touted during his presidential campaign with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Just before Christmas, Trump signed the legislation aiming to overhaul the U.S. tax code by trimming its corporate income tax rate to 21 percent and setting a new limit on deductible mortgage debt at $750,000 for new loans, with current loans of up to $1 million grandfathered. The law also repeals a deduction for interest paid on home equity loans, except in cases where the loan is used to improve the residence rather than for other life expenses. Opinions are mixed about how the new tax law will affect homeowners and home buyers. According to a mid-December analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, the tax plan would result in an extra $835 for the average middle-income family in Connecticut, and add nearly 4,000 new jobs, well short of the jobs the state has yet to recover from the recession.