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May 13, 2024 Deal Watch

Marking 100-year anniversary, engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill will relocate HQ from Manchester to downtown Hartford

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Fuss & O’Neill senior leaders stand in front of their future home, the Gold Building in downtown Hartford. (From left): VP and Marketing Dir. Kathy Nanowski, IT manager Krithiga Sridar, CEO and President Kevin Grigg, Sr. VP and Regional Manager Craig Lapinski, and Exec. Asst. Tatia Lewis-Hayes.
Fuss & O’Neill’s 100-year history
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Civil and environmental engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill is marking its 100-year anniversary in 2024, and it’s making a big move to celebrate.

The firm this fall will relocate from its longtime Manchester headquarters, at 146 Hartford Road, to downtown Hartford, where it will occupy about 25,000 square feet in the Gold Building, said Fuss & O’Neill CEO Kevin Grigg.

The firm over the past several years has made a conscious effort to relocate several of its New England offices to more urbanized areas, a trend that’s been adopted by other companies to make it easier “to attract and retain employees, particularly early- to mid-career professionals, because I think they just find urban areas more convenient and exciting,” Grigg said.

Urban locations offer easy highway access and bring engineers and senior project managers closer to clients, or within walking distance of meeting spots like restaurants, Grigg said.

Fuss & O’Neill already has strong ties to Hartford. Since 1997, the firm has been a consultant to the city and is working as an engineer on the levee and flood control system. It also has done work for The Metropolitan District on various projects such as water main replacements, soil management and dam repairs; and Riverfront Recapture for the Hartford Riverwalk trail that connects Hartford and East Hartford to the Connecticut River.

Fuss is also involved in Connecticut Children’s ongoing campus expansion.

Fuss & O’Neill Regional Manager Craig Lapinski said the current Manchester space is larger than the new office, but highly inefficient.

The Manchester site is about 50,000 square feet split up between two buildings on multiple floors, with large cubicles and a lack of open, collaborative space.

The firm is moving to half that amount of space in the Gold Building, which “has a really efficient footprint, it’s a big rectangle, so we’re able to do a lot more with less space,” Lapinski said.

The 621,900-square-foot, Class A Gold Building also gives Fuss & O’Neill space to spread out, with open collaboration areas, conference rooms and private spaces for Zoom calls, he said.

More than 160 employees will report to the new Hartford headquarters. Fuss & O’Neill has been on a growth spurt, expanding from 230 employees overall when Grigg joined the firm in 2012, to about 400 today.

Fuss & O’Neill has 11 offices throughout New England and New York.

“There’s always the possibility that as you continue to grow you’re going to need more space, whereas our spaces in Manchester are confined by the walls and ceilings there,” Grigg said. So, the Gold Building “is a move that can accommodate future growth.”

Fuss & O’Neill has been offered up to $1 million in potential tax credits through the state’s JobsCT tax rebate program, contingent upon the firm creating and retaining more than 70 new full-time jobs. The funding is not intended to support the relocation, and will only be provided if criteria is met in a few years, officials said.

Striking gold in downtown

Fuss & O’Neill’s relocation to downtown Hartford will provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the central business district, which continues to struggle with high office vacancies post-pandemic, an issue faced by many U.S. cities.

According to brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield’s first quarter market report, about 36.3% of office space in Hartford’s central business district is vacant. CBRE estimates the downtown vacancy rate at 22.6%.

Andrew Filler

However, the Gold Building, also known as One Financial Plaza, has experienced a recent boost. The 26-story office tower recently signed three other new tenants, increasing its occupancy rate to 78%, according to Andrew Filler, a principal in Hartford with national commercial real estate firm Avison Young.

Many of the new tenants are relocating from the suburbs, said Filler, who brokered the deals on behalf of the Gold Building.

Other new tenants include:

  • Gordon Rees, a national law firm that signed a 14,000-square-foot lease and is relocating from Glastonbury.
  • CARMAC, the corporate office of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which signed an 11,000-square-foot lease and is moving from Windsor Locks.
  • The Connecticut Health & Educational Facilities Authority, a quasi-public state agency that provides hospitals, universities and other nonprofits access to tax-exempt financing; CHEFA signed an 11,000-square-foot lease and is moving from 10 Columbus Blvd. (also known as the Candy Cane building), located on the outskirts of downtown Hartford.

Filler said tenants were attracted to the Gold Building because it offers Class A amenities — like a newly updated lobby and cafe, outdoor seating/collaborative work space, dry-cleaning pickup and delivery and an attached parking garage — and is located in an urban environment within walking distance of restaurants and other merchants.

Many of the new tenants also had connections to building owner LAZ Investments, which is the investment arm of national parking operator LAZ Parking.

LAZ, headed by well-known businessman Alan Lazowski, in 2019 teamed up with downtown Hartford’s largest office landlord, Shelbourne Global Solutions, to purchase the Gold Building for $70.5 million.

Since then, LAZ Parking has moved its Hartford headquarters to the Gold Building. Other prominent tenants include Global Atlantic, KPMG, Virtus Investment Partners, Conning and Sun Life.

Despite the Gold Building’s recent gains, office leasing activity in downtown Hartford remains challenging, Filler said.

“Unfortunately, people have not returned back to work as fast as we thought they would,” he said.

While companies have implemented mandatory in-office days, many aren’t enforcing the policy, Filler said. Hybrid and remote work options remain popular, and likely will be part of the mix for the foreseeable future.

That’s allowed companies to shrink their office footprints as leases come up for renewal, he said, increasing vacancy rates.

New space for new era

Meantime, Fuss & O’Neill’s move to Hartford comes as the firm is undergoing other significant changes.

As part of its 100th-year anniversary, the firm has launched a new rebranding campaign and logo.

It also recently took on an investment from the Trilon Group, which is a family of infrastructure consulting businesses.

The Trilon Group, backed by San Francisco-based private equity firm Alpine Investors, was formed in 2022 with the goal of creating a top 20 design firm in North America. It has since established partnerships with about a dozen water, transportation and other consulting firms.

Terms of Trilon Group’s deal with Fuss & O’Neill weren’t disclosed, but Grigg said the partnership will help accelerate his firm’s growth.

He declined to disclose annual revenues or how much the firm is investing in its new space, but noted that the move to Hartford and modern office design are reflective of Fuss & O’Neill’s history and future.

Hartford-based architecture firm Tecton Architects is designing the office space, which will feature a 360-degree view of Hartford, natural daylight, glass-walled offices along the building core and low-partitioned workstations along the exterior glass.

“The new design promises to be instrumental in fostering collaboration, a vital component currently lacking in our present office,” the firm said, and “finishes have been carefully selected to honor and reflect the natural environment that is very much the focus of our work.”

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