Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

March 4, 2024

Here’s why one engineering firm relocated from West Hartford to downtown Hartford

HBJ PHOTO | HANNA SNYDER GAMBINI PES Structural Engineers Principal David Aucoin in the firm’s new downtown Hartford office.
PES Structural Engineers
More Information

Despite suffering from a high vacancy rate, one trend that’s benefitted Hartford’s struggling office market has been the slow, but consistent movement of companies relocating from the suburbs to the city’s downtown.

One of the latest companies to make the move was PES Structural Engineers. The national firm has relocated its Connecticut regional office from West Hartford to the Front Street Entertainment District in downtown Hartford.

PES Principal David Aucoin said the new 4,250-square-foot space, at the corner of Columbus Boulevard and Arch Street, offers a more vibrant city setting for the firm’s eight Connecticut employees.

The new office also provides room for growth as PES wants to double its local employee count. PES has 57 total employees between its Hartford office and Atlanta headquarters.

The firm had been located in the Bishops Corner retail center of West Hartford since 2012, but it outgrew the small space, which had singular rooms and no open feel, Aucoin said.

“As we grew, we wanted more of an architectural engineering collaborative space, especially as people are getting back (to the office) from the pandemic,” Aucoin said.

Room to grow

PES was founded in 1988 and offers structural engineering services to clients throughout the U.S.

It has been involved in some major local developments, including the One Park apartment project in West Hartford with Lexington Partners, and the 55 Elm St. redevelopment in Hartford, which is converting a seven-story former government building into apartments with Spinnaker Real Estate Partners.

The company works regularly with Hartford-area design firms like Tecton Architects, JCJ Architecture, Crosskey Architects, Shepley Bulfinch and Amenta Emma, Aucoin said.

Being closer to those clients was part of the reason for the move to downtown, Aucoin said. It’s also an easier commute for most employees.

When PES was looking to grow and offer a more dynamic office setting, options like leasing and renovating additional space in its former West Hartford home, at 2446 Albany Ave., would have been too costly, and didn’t suit the firm’s design needs, said Aucoin.

David Brownell, the Northeast director of marketing and business intelligence for PES, said space in West Hartford is in high demand. The Hartford office market offered more options and favorable lease rates and incentives.

PES received a $75,000 tenant-improvement budget within the terms of its five-year lease, and the firm invested another $200,000 in the build out of its new space, Aucoin said.

The Front Street location, at 75 Columbus Blvd., is near Infinity Music Hall and UConn’s Hartford campus, in addition to restaurants like Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ, The Capital Grille and Plan b Burger Bar.

PES’ office features exposed ductwork and structural beams, large windows and an open, collaborative space where engineers and project managers can work side-by-side.

Many companies, post-pandemic, have repurposed their spaces to create a sense of community and collaboration, Aucoin said.

PES leaders also looked at space in the historic Colt Gateway building, which was architecturally appealing with concrete columns and offered a great view of the city skyline, Aucoin said.

Aucoin said the move brings him full circle — he graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, and worked his first job in the Gold Building at the beginning of his career in the late 1990s.

Suburban migration

PES’ move has been a bright spot in what’s been a challenging post-pandemic Hartford office market.

The public health crisis made remote work more popular and caused many companies to rethink their office space policies and needs. Many businesses have adopted hybrid work models that require employees to come to the office at least a few days a week.

PES employees, for example, can work from home Mondays and Fridays, a trend that started during the pandemic, but are encouraged to be in the office midweek.

Hybrid work schedules have made companies desire more vibrant office settings that help lure people back to the office. For some, it has also reduced their need for space.

Downtown Hartford’s office vacancy rate was 18.7% pre-pandemic in the fourth quarter of 2019, but ballooned above 27% at the end of the fourth quarter of 2023, according to CBRE. The city’s larger Class A buildings have faced even bigger challenges, and currently have a vacancy rate of 32%.

John McCormick, executive vice president of brokerage firm CBRE in Hartford, said 2023 represented the 10th consecutive year of the suburban migration into Hartford.

Other recent examples included Talcott Financial Group’s move last year to downtown Hartford from Windsor. Before that, SunLife Financial relocated its Connecticut office from Windsor to the Gold Building, at One Financial Plaza.

Decades-long efforts to add more amenities in Hartford — like Dunkin’ Park, the Front Street Entertainment District, new apartments and, most recently, new restaurants aided by the city’s Hart Lift grant program — have made the city more attractive, McCormick said.

“People just want to be part of that versus being in a suburban office park,” McCormick said.

The city also offers a discount to more competitive office markets.

Lease rates for space in West Hartford average $35 to $40 per square foot, whereas in downtown Hartford, it’s closer to $22 to $25 per square foot, McCormick said.

“So, there’s some economic value that companies are looking to take advantage of,” McCormick said.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF