Groton — Drug giant Pfizer Inc. said it plans to tear down 750,000 square feet of unused laboratory space on its Groton campus, a move that follows frantic efforts in recent months to find a new use for the facility.
Last year, Pfizer put up for sale a million square feet of space at its Connecticut research and development headquarters, now surplus to its needs after several waves of downsizing.
The company has been quite open that if a viable use could not be found for the space, it would be demolished to save on maintenance and property-tax costs. State and town officials, chambers of commerce and local business people came together to try to broker a deal that would see new businesses locate to the site, but Wednesday Pfizer announced those efforts had failed.
“We’re very, very disappointed,” said Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger, one of the people at the center of efforts to save the space. He said he believes they were close.
“It’s one thing to say, you know, we tried and we couldn’t attract any interest, but it’s doubly hurtful and painful when we know that there was a potential developer, very well positioned individual that we had a lot of expectations that a deal ultimately would come about.”
As well as the economic benefit from any reuse, Oefinger’s town now stands to lose $2 million in property tax receipts. The state had also been involved as a matchmaker, trying to line up other bioscience companies that could make use of well-equipped lab facilities.
Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, said it’s frustrating to lose the building.
“It’s a rare thing to have almost 800,000 square feet of laboratory space, of which a couple of hundred thousand square feet is vivarium. It’s a wonderful asset that we were hoping to put to better use than being torn down.” (Smith was referring to a lab that houses plants or animals.)
The doomed facility, known as Building 118, is the bulk of the space Pfizer has available, but there are a few smaller buildings where reuse might still be an option. The University of Connecticut, which has a campus at nearby Avery Point, has expressed interest in expanding its activities there.
“I’m feeling very optimistic that we’re going to have some terrific announcements about some of those other buildings in the near future,” Smith said. “And I think that will help the local economy and our greater economy as well, because right now those buildings are sitting completely empty.”
But Groton’s Mark Oefinger said it’s hard to give up completely on Building 118, adding that he is keeping the lines of communication open with Pfizer officials.
“And yes, there’s a part of me that is still hopeful that people will step back and rethink and something will intervene in the next couple of weeks, next couple of months that possibly may change their mind.”