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State and local officials attending a groundbreaking ceremony at East Hartford’s Rentschler Field Monday declared 2.5 million square feet of logistics space under construction a sign of growing economic vitality.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal recalled past visits to Rentschler Field. He saw long lines waiting for COVID-19 vaccination shots on one visit and lines for free Thanksgiving meals at another. He called the ongoing construction effort by Massachusetts-based National Development a “turning point.”
“It is a sign that we are in full-scale recovery from COVID,” Blumenthal said. “We are on the move toward economic expansion and prosperity here in Connecticut.”
East Hartford’s Rentschler Field got its start as a testing ground for aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney beginning in 1931. It housed fighter planes during World War II before being turned back over to the company. It was decommissioned in 1999 and little has taken off or landed there since, apart from big flocks of Canadian geese.
In 2003 the state finished its $92 million construction of a sports stadium at Rentschler Field on 75 donated acres. Four years later, outdoor retailer Cabela’s opened a nearly 200,000-square-foot store that was supposed to be the catalyst for further retail development, a hope that didn’t pan out.
National Development paid Raytheon Technologies $78.47 million for 300 acres of the former Rentschler Field in January and immediately launched sitework for two massive warehouses. On Monday, the developer announced Lowe’s Home Improvement agreed to occupy a 1.3-million-square-foot logistics building and home-goods retailer Wayfair would occupy a separate 1.2-million-square-foot building.
Pad sites are being built up with nearly 1.5 million square feet of crushed rock due to the high water table. More than half the needed material has been trucked in since January. Mayor Michael Walsh said there have been no complaints from residents about the truck traffic, something he credited to the proximity of Interstate 84 exits.
Like many dignitaries at Monday’s event, Walsh has a very personal connection to the site. His father, Patrick, worked at Pratt & Whitney for 48 years before retiring in 1986.
“When it opened, this was (Pratt & Whitney founder) Frederick Rentschler’s field of dreams,” Walsh said. “Today, 90 years later … this is East Hartford’s field of dreams.”
National Development, on Monday, said each of its logistics buildings would support up to 400 construction jobs, with the pair of warehouses resulting in up to 1,000 permanent jobs.
National Development Managing Partner Ed Marsteiner said local and state officials have lived up to supportive pledges made early in the vetting process. He anticipates completing the logistics buildings in summer 2024.
National Development plans call for construction of two, 100,000-square-foot buildings for advanced manufacturing at some point. Marsteiner said Monday National Development has not yet engaged a broker to try and market those spaces.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said National Development’s decision to locate in East Hartford is a recognition of Connecticut’s talented workforce, transportation infrastructure and available building sites.
“National Development saw that potential when they selected the former Pratt & Whitney airfield to be the perfect location for their logistics facility,” Bysiewicz said. “And this new logistics and technology park will be an economic driver for our state.”
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