Published December 06. 2011 4:00AM Updated December 06. 2011 2:44PM
Groton - Pfizer Inc. is offering for sale or lease three office buildings with laboratory space on its campus off Eastern Point Road, including the company's original local research headquarters where such groundbreaking drugs as the antibiotic doxycycline and arthritis medication Feldene were discovered.
Jonathan Putnam, executive director for the commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield in Hartford and the man who sold Pfizer's former world research-and-development headquarters in New London to Electric Boat for $55 million last year, said Monday he has been marketing the three properties in earnest for the past month.
"We're marketing it as broadly as possible," Putnam said in a phone interview. "We're wide open in terms of who we would lease to."
The highlight of Pfizer's office-space offering is Building 118, an architecturally significant, 750,000-square-foot structure highlighted by a glass atrium that once helped the company woo top scientific talent from around the country to live and work in the region.
The building, where scientists discovering new medicines for humans and animals once worked side by side with biologists trying to improve on farm crops, accommodated up to an estimated 400 employees but has recently been largely vacated by Pfizer in a cost-cutting move as the New York pharmaceutical giant implements plans to reduce its local R&D work force by 1,100.
"To achieve maximum value for Pfizer's R&D investment, we are evaluating ways to consolidate the Groton site footprint and make the most efficient use of buildings and equipment," Pfizer spokeswoman Kristen Neese said in an emailed statement to The Day. "Certain buildings will be vacated, in part or in whole. No decisions have been made yet regarding the disposition of buildings to be vacated."
But The Day acquired a Cushman & Wakefield brochure indicating that Pfizer has decided to either sell or lease Building 118, which opened in 1960 to great local fanfare and long has been associated with an outdoor statue of Hermes, who in Greek mythology brought fire and technology to the gods on Mount Olympus.
The company also hopes to lease two other offices - Building 286, which includes 23,800 square feet of space and Building 126, which is about twice as big.
"Because of the unique nature of the complex, the property offers unparalleled flexibility and subdivision potential," according to the brochure description for the largest of Pfizer's research buildings being offered.
Putnam, the Cushman & Wakefield official, said there is no asking price for Building 118, but Pfizer would be willing to entertain an offer from the right buyer or otherwise lease some or all of the space. The other office buildings would be leased at $11 a square foot, plus all related expenses (such as utilities, taxes, maintenance and insurance).
"It isn't good news," said Norm Peck, an agent for Pequot Commercial Real Estate in Waterford. "Every time Pfizer burps, we have fear in people and a decrease in confidence."
Peck referred to a series of cutbacks locally at Pfizer, which once employed 6,000 people but expects a reduction to about 3,500 sometime next year. The region, a few years ago the center of Pfizer's R&D universe, has been redesignated a Center for Excellence in Discovery and Development Sciences, while drug-discovery work is largely being moved to Cambridge, Mass.
Pfizer has already moved its cardiovascular research unit once housed in Groton to Massachusetts, and it plans to complete a similar move of Groton's neuroscience unit to the Bay State by sometime next year. Another research unit focusing on antibiotics has been largely dismantled and, though Pfizer has said the group is expected to be reconstituted in China, the company already has announced a delay in the plans and experts have said they doubt the research unit will ever reappear.
State Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, among a group of local legislators to attend a tour of Pfizer Monday, said he wasn't surprised about the company's decision to sell or lease buildings within its campus.
"On the other hand, it helps with another challenge in Connecticut, which is the lack of adequate laboratory space," he said. "If there's the possibility that this would open up lab space for small biotechs, that's a good thing."
Putnam said Pfizer hopes to attract other research companies interested in laboratory space and may be able to bring in a large firm interested in the synergy of being close to Pfizer as well as in savings on costs associated with not having to set up their own labs.
"The buildings work well for a variety of user types," including educational and medical institutions, Putnam said.
His company has already reached out to some local companies potentially interested in the office space, Putnam added, and tenants most likely would already have an in-state presence. But he said the Pfizer location is also being marketed to out-of-state firms.
"It's a beautiful site next to the Thames River and overlooking Long Island Sound," he said. "It's always been a good home to Pfizer."
As for the statue of Hermes, that would likely be up for negotiation, according to Putnam.