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Updated: July 28, 2020 The Real Deal

New Hartford office tower owner, Congressional candidate Askar staying course during quiet leasing period

Photo | A development team is searching for tenants for Hartford’s empty 25 Sigourney St. office tower.

Of all Hartford’s out-of-state landlords, Florida businessman and GOP congressional candidate Casey Askar is among the flashiest.

Askar, who spent $2.9 million last year to acquire a Farmington mansion owned by rapper 50 Cent, in February partnered with West Hartford realty investor Williams Coons III on a $1-million cash purchase and ensuing redevelopment of a vacant, state-owned skyscraper overlooking the I-84 viaduct in Hartford.

The Iraqi immigrant and marine veteran is now investing at least $5 million of his own money to upgrade the 15-story office tower, at 25 Sigourney St., all while vying for southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District seat and running a national real estate portfolio and one of the nation’s largest franchises of various multinational brands, including Papa Romano’s Pizza, Church’s Chicken and Dunkin’.

Photo | Contributed
Real estate investor Casey Askar.

Askar, whose real estate business is based in Detroit, in an interview said Hartford could mirror the Motor City’s economic revival despite an oversupply of office space and significant financial challenges he credits to poor economic policy.

Other potential hurdles he cited are a shrinking office market as remote working booms during the coronavirus crisis and employers rethinking pre-pandemic expansion plans.

To “prosper,” Askar said Hartford needs aggressive investors like himself to seize on value-driven redevelopments.

“I’m hopeful that entrepreneurs like myself see the value and create the demand over time, because it’s a great city,” he said. “If you can turn an asset like [25 Sigourney St.] from a liability into a successful asset, that’s a big statement. And it’s large enough to make that statement.”

Coronavirus delays leasing, renovations

At 467,000 square feet, the Class A 25 Sigourney St. office tower — and six-story, adjacent parking garage — is suited for one large corporate tenant, or a variety of smaller tenants, Askar said.

There’s no projected timeline on when tenants could be signed, he said, but negotiations with two “aggressive” prospects fell apart in recent months due to economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

“They are both really strong tenants that would draw in many other mixed-use tenants,” said Askar, optimistic that one of the interested parties inquired about leasing the entire building.

“Now with COVID, there’s not even, right now, a conversation on them being interested until they regroup and get their companies back in working order, because everyone is in some sort of disarray,” he said.

[Read more: Hartford’s office market in limbo as COVID-19 uncertainty delays expansions, renewals]

The tower, he says, is in much better shape than people assumed after state workers in the early 2000s were reportedly experiencing respiratory issues because of poor air quality and mold in the building.

The state spent roughly $6 million to replace the roof and remove carpet and wallboard, and the tower was declared clean in 2004. State workers spent another decade-plus in the facility before vacating it three years ago.

Leasing hesitation and construction limitations caused by the pandemic have slowed additional improvement work that Askar and Coons promised under a tax abatement agreement with the city, which is projected to save them $2.1 million over a decade.

The abatement requires their so-called Spartan Towers LLC unit to make at least $2.3 million in improvements to the office building within the next five years. Construction crews in recent months have mostly been limited to upgrading mechanical, electrical, plumbing and common areas in offices, among other cleanup work.

Despite a delayed rehab of the building, which was first occupied by Xerox Corp. in the late 1980s and later Hartford health insurer Aetna, Askar said his group’s investment could still top $30 million for tenant-specific improvements and exterior work to the building and a once-crumbling parking garage.

Askar’s team, with support from area brokers and Mayor Luke Bronin’s office, is still marketing the site to leasing prospects, although most companies are expected to continue operating remotely during the summer months, he said.

“The only thing that changes is timeline,” Askar said. “We are really waiting for the world to get engaged again.”

The Hartford tower is only a small piece of Askar’s business and now political aspirations.

The staunch supporter of President Donald Trump is closing in on a Republican primary in August, and in recent months has faced allegations he illegally directed a loan to his campaign, and questions surrounding his academic credentials. He denies both accounts.

Askar’s real estate business, meantime, owns and manages more than 2 million square feet of office, retail and industrial real estate across the U.S.

The Askar Family Portfolio, he said, has “sustainability power” to overcome financial harm during the health crisis because it has “very low debt.”

They have also scored many redevelopment successes in southwest Florida and Michigan’s Oakland County area, where they acquired low-occupancy buildings and brought them to very high, or full, occupancies.

“I won’t quote our [total] occupancy rate, but it’s extremely high,” Askar said of his redevelopment record. “An asset of this size [25 Sigourney St.] takes some more time than usual. With COVID-19, it’s a game-changer. It’s just something we need to wait out, and wait for things to come down to normalcy.”

Deal Roundup

Minnesota-based Fabcon Precast recently leased an 18,000-square-foot industrial facility in Windsor Locks, brokers say.

Fabcon recently signed a multi-year lease for the space at 295 Ella Grasso Turnpike from owner John Bonfiglio, principal of Summer Stone Fund VI LLC. Colliers International said it represented Bonfiglio, and Jones Lang LaSalle represented Facbon in the deal.

Fabcon is occupying the Windsor Locks facility just three years after the town of Windsor failed to convince the company to build a $25-million manufacturing plant there.

Joe Cooper is HBJ’s web editor and real estate writer. He pens “The Real Deal” column about commercial real estate.

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August 8, 2020

25 Sigourney is an awesome building. I spent two years working on the 18th floor in the early 90s. It was beautiful and had a great cafeteria. I do remember that the 19th had leaks even then. Bring her back to her greatness.

July 28, 2020

It's nice to see smart,rich people
investing in the Shooting Star,maybe
he knows something that is not
apparent to a resident.

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