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Pfizer had right to do region wrong

Published March 29. 2013 4:00AM

Pfizer Inc. has every right to demolish the buildings it owns. But in deciding to raze Building 118 the pharmaceutical giant is not proving to be a good corporate neighbor. The unwillingness of Pfizer to offer a rational explanation for the decision is all the more frustrating.

Razing the building and an adjacent complex of former research labs to save on property taxes would make sense, except that there was apparently a potential buyer in place that would have assumed the tax burden.

"No jobs will be impacted as a result of this decision," said Pfizer spokeswoman Joan Campion.

The statement was indicative of Pfizer's corporate myopia. No jobs at Pfizer will be impacted perhaps. Pfizer, which has downsized its workforce, had long ago vacated the 750,000-sqaure-foot complex for newer digs on its Groton campus.

But municipal jobs may well be lost as the City of Groton absorbs the loss of about $500,000 in property tax revenues annually and the town $2 million. More troubling are the jobs that could have been created, but won't be if Pfizer sticks by this decision.

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, working in conjunction with local leaders, had been trying hard to arrange the sale of the complex and the reuse of the buildings, creating well-paying jobs and keeping the property on the tax rolls in the process.

And it appears a deal was close. Stu Lichter, president of the Industrial Realty Group, confirmed in a phone interview with Day Staff Writer Lee Howard on Wednesday that his company was in serious negotiations. The California company has a record of finding new and profitable uses for empty buildings. Mr. Lichter said he had a bioscience company lined up as the first tenant, and anticipated the creation of up to 200 science jobs.

Gov. Malloy anticipated closing the deal. In a March 11 visit to The Day, the governor said he expected his administration would soon have some positive news to report about Building 118. The governor is too savvy a politician to raise expectations if he did not think he could deliver, so Pfizer's reversal apparently came as an unpleasant surprise to him as well.

Was it the nature of the business planned for the former laboratories? Did Pfizer fear that an adjacent research operation would poach disaffected employees?

The statements coming from Pfizer suggests the corporation is operating in some parallel universe in which there was never any potential deal or state assistance to make it happen.

"Given the substantial operating costs associated with maintaining an empty facility and having exhausted potential alternatives, we are proceeding with plans to raze this building," stated the Groton site leader, Rod MacKenzie, in a note to employees.

And, by the way, Pfizer appreciates the efforts of the governor, state and federal legislators and local leaders in trying to find a viable use, added Ms. Campion in a follow-up statement. With friends like this

Most galling is how often this corporation benefited by receiving state tax credits and tax breaks to support it during a time of expansion. That it could not continue working on a deal to reuse these buildings, and benefit the community it is part of, is distressing evidence of the callousness of corporate calculations.

While things appear grim, the Malloy administration should do what it can to try to get Pfizer to reconsider. It must also not allow any animus over this matter to interfere with negotiations over possible uses of other Pfizer properties for sale or lease.

It is more important than ever that the legislature pass and the governor sign a bill, sponsored by the region's delegation of state lawmakers, that would require the Department of Economic and Community Development to create a plan for bioscience and pharmaceutical growth in southeastern Connecticut.

But unfortunately, unless something changes, that planning will not include Building 118 - and that is a shame.

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