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Updated: October 19, 2020 Town Profile: Enfield

CT waste hauler pays $1.9M for LEGO’s former Enfield HQ

HBJ Photo | Matt Pilon Lego’s former headquarters in Enfield is set for a new life as the home office of USA Hauling & Recycling, which hopes to also establish the campus as a destination for industry events and continuing education.

It’s always tough for a municipality when a major employer downsizes or leaves town entirely, something Enfield has experienced a few times in recent years.

The northern Hartford County community has seen LEGO, once the town’s largest employer, cut hundreds of jobs from its North American headquarters since 2007; and Hallmark in 2015 closed its local warehouse, shedding about 570 jobs. Meanwhile, MassMutual’s relocation to Massachusetts, spurred by Bay State economic incentives, is nearly complete, reducing Enfield’s job count by about 1,500.

However, even during an era in which suburban corporate campuses have lost their former luster, certain challenges simply solve themselves.

Enfield officials had been worried about what might become of LEGO’s 105,000-square-foot office complex at 555 Taylor Rd., but were relieved this month to learn that it had found a buyer.

USA Hauling & Recycling, whose trucks and crews pick up waste from across Connecticut as well as in western Massachusetts, paid $1.85 million for the property on Oct. 2, according to the Enfield assessor’s office.

The seller was Winstanley Enterprises, a major commercial landlord in Connecticut that bought the LEGO complex in 2017 for $13.1 million, town records show.

Frank Antonacci, Chief Operating Officer, USA Hauling

Frank Antonacci, USA Hauling’s chief operating officer, said the family-owned business has grown since it first set up its existing Enfield headquarters in an approximately 15,000-square-foot facility on Mullen Road around the turn of the century.

“We’ve outgrown our office space in Enfield,” Antonacci said. “So, we’ve had to set up satellite offices throughout our footprint.”

With the purchase of the much larger LEGO property, USA Hauling intends to consolidate approximately six satellite locations — including its existing Enfield office — moving customer service, engineering, finance, collections and accounting staffers to Taylor Road.

Antonacci expects USA Hauling to nearly double its approximately 75-employee workforce in the coming years, as it has continued to grow its customer base.

But even with that anticipated growth, the company likely won’t need the entire LEGO space.

Antonacci said USA Hauling hopes to lease some of the building — which LEGO renovated in 2011 — to other companies, perhaps for coworking space. It may also offer up some of the footprint for environmental and waste conferences and continuing-education events.

“I think this would be a little bit one-of-a-kind,” Antonacci said of the envisioned mix of facilities at USA Hauling’s new property, which will undergo some renovations in the coming months.

LEGO still has a sizable presence in Enfield, with more than 650 employees based out of 100 Print Shop Road.

Other challenges, opportunities

Enfield is updating its plan of conservation and development, a local visioning process the state requires of municipalities every 10 years in order for them to remain eligible for certain funding.

Such studies examine potential ways to reuse and repurpose key commercial properties, which in Enfield will include the MassMutual campus and the recently acquired and struggling Enfield Square Mall.

Lauren Whitten, Enfield’s director of development services, said the town, which has hired a consultant to help modernize its zoning codes, is “very pro-development and pro-business.”

“We want to be a partner with any business and we want to be able to help in any way we can,” Whitten said.

However, some property owners are more collaborative than others.

Whitten said Namdar Realty Group, which paid $11.4 million last year for the Enfield Square Mall (a property that changed hands for $82 million in 2006), has been regularly in touch with town officials about ways to revitalize the shopping center, which has lost some key tenants in recent years. There are some stores and a movie theater open today, with a new gym in the works.

Town communication with MassMutual, Enfield’s biggest taxpayer in recent years, has been a different story.

Whitten, who was hired two years ago after holding a head planning position in East Windsor, said she’s attempted to contact the insurer to discuss any progress in marketing its 66-acre campus, or any potential reuse concepts.

“I have not been able to get a hold of any particular person,” Whitten reported.

For now, the 435,000-square-foot MassMutual campus, which the life insurer bought in 2004 for $27.5 million, appears vacant, she said.

“We would love to see the building full of employees and vibrant,” she said. “Most of those employees, if they didn’t eat on campus, visited local stores and the restaurants in town.”

She’s doubtful about another large office tenant taking over the entire campus. A mixed-use redevelopment with a housing component may be warranted.

MassMutual spokeswoman Chelsea Haraty said that 95% of its Enfield employees have been telecommuting since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will continue to do so into the first quarter of 2021.

“As for interest in the Enfield campus, we continue to market it for sale and do not have a specific timeline for selling the campus,” Haraty said.

Besides the LEGO property sale, there are some other bright spots for Enfield, even during COVID-19, Whitten said.

The town is hoping to hear back from the state in the next few months about funding for a new train station along the Hartford Line in its Thompsonville section, which is expected to spur a number of transit-oriented investments nearby.

There’s also been a healthy level of development and permitting activity this year, including the recent approval of a more than 500,000-square-foot distribution warehouse being developed by Winstanley on North Maple Street.

“We continue to move forward, COVID or not, we are working full time and we’re extremely busy,” Whitten said. “I think we’re lucky in that sense.”

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