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BLT setting the pace in Stamford real estate development – and Covid response – Westfair Online

It’s nearly impossible to discuss the dramatic growth of Stamford without including Building and Land Technology.

The Stamford developer has built some 4,000 apartments in the city over the past decade, with another 200 currently under construction — filling an obvious need, as the city has continued to expand. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, Stamford is now Connecticut’s second-largest city, thanks to a 10.5% population growth between 2010 and 2020.

Mike Handler

With its population growing over that period from 122,643 to 135,470, Stamford leapfrogged past Hartford and New Haven to trail only Bridgeport — which saw a 0.4% decline from 144,229 to 143,653.

The city’s growth also outperformed the state’s 0.89%, Fairfield County’s 4.4% and the nation’s 7.4%.

Much of that increase took place before the pandemic hit, resulting in the much-reported exodus from New York City to Fairfield and Westchester counties, among others. The crown jewel in BLT’s portfolio remains Harbor Point, the $3.5 billion mixed-use development that includes five distinct areas, each focused on a park or waterfront feature.

The still-expanding development includes over 2,300 apartments, a dozen-plus restaurants, over 20 acres of parks and more than 200 annual events.

The evolving Stamford landscape will likely change again next month. Having defeated two-term Mayor David Martin in the September Democratic primary, State Rep. Caroline Simmons will face off against former Major League Baseball player and manager Bobby Valentine.

Martin was dogged at least as far back as the 2017 mayoral election by complaints from some residents that all the construction was causing traffic congestion and headaches. Concerns have also been raised that, once Covid-19 fades into history, the lion’s share of New York apartment-dwellers displaced by the pandemic could flock back to the city.

BLT Co-president Michael Handler dismissed such questions, saying the firm has “no concerns whatsoever.

“Among the benefits of building apartments and several office buildings in the last decade is that the infrastructure in the South End has also been largely rebuilt, along with acres of new parks, a revitalized waterfront, new utilities, streets, sidewalks, bike lanes and underpasses,” he told the Business Journal. “Much of this was done by BLT in collaboration with the city and state.

“There is no doubt that these infrastructure projects can at times be disruptive,” he continued, “but the final product is hugely beneficial to the community. We look forward to the city completing the Greenwich/Pulaski Roundabout and the state completing their new garage at the Stamford Train Station — all of which will be critical enhancements to their current condition.”

As for Covid, “There is no question that the pandemic redefined the way people think about their home and their home environment,” Handler said. “There is always a chance that people revert to old habits, but we are confident that the value and variety of amenities offered in Harbor Point have been too attractive to leave and thus far, the data supports this theory.

“Very few of those who moved here from New York City have moved back at the end of their lease terms, and most have chosen to stay,” he expanded. “Many of those who did not renew their lease instead purchased a home in the area.”

And it isn’t just residential real estate; commercial is hot as well. Among the deals swung this year are ITT moving its headquarters from White Plains to the city; Tomo formally establishing its headquarters in Stamford; and skincare company Beiersdorf relocating its North American headquarters from Wilton. Still to be determined is the ultimate destination of Philip Morris International, which has said it’s moving its HQ from Manhattan to “Fairfield County,” which some have taken to mean Stamford.

“More than any other factor, companies need access to high-quality workforce talent,” Handler declared. “And that talent wants to live in a vibrant city that can provide an exceptional quality of life, great nightlife and activities, a range of housing and accessible transportation — all of which Stamford offers.”

Covid response

He further noted that BLT tried to be proactive for its existing tenants when Covid hit.

The company “has been at the forefront of enhanced cleaning, disinfection, and indoor air-quality enhancements throughout,” he said. “We have partnered with some of the industry’s leading building scientists and architects to ensure that we take advantage of the very best technology and maintenance techniques to create a healthy environment in an active pandemic world.”

BLT’s staff “has been successfully back in our offices full time for over a year,” he continued, “so we know that our improvements and our practices are effective. By working together with our commercial tenant partners, we were able to ensure they too had what they needed to be confident and successful in their return to office.”

On the engineering side, BLT adopted improvements in mechanical air filtration, UV disinfection and bipolar ionization.

“We also created a guide early in the pandemic that helped our tenants navigate the overwhelming amount of information and guidelines, which enabled them to streamline their needs and procure what they needed,” Handler said.

The developer also partnered secured and distributed $15 million in PPE to frontline workers, and partnered with Stamford Health and the state on a number of pandemic-related initiatives.

Handler said those included providing “regular comprehensive Covid-19 PCR diagnostic testing for our commercial tenants and their vendors, which served to validate our mitigation efforts while providing an added layer of protection.

“As soon as vaccines became available, we ensured ease and accessibility to the vaccine at BLT’s vaccine supersite, located in our corporate headquarters,” he continued. “The last component to our success was complete transparency and regular communication, which helped bolster confidence and empowered our employees and customers to successfully navigate the crisis.”

Handler described BLT’s relationship with Stamford Health as one “based on a mutual understanding for each other’s capabilities and our unified desire to serve the greater community. Stamford Health has served as a vital partner as we worked to protect our families, our employees, and our customers. It was a natural step for us to partner and expand our efforts to serve the entire Stamford community.”

To date, BLT and its partners — which also include Yale New Haven Hospital, CIC Health, Sema4, and Community Health Centers — have facilitated more than 15,000 Covid-19 diagnostic tests and more than 55,000 vaccinations, Handler said.

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