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Moving Stories

New Ownership Is Gaining Tenants, and Momentum, at One Financial Plaza
Keith Parent

Keith Parent, on one of his balconies, with Springfield’s Court Square in the background.

Several floors remain vacant, or ‘dark,’ as they say in this business, but there are more lights now on at One Financial Plaza than there have been in years. New ownership has made several improvements, steps that, when coupled with some aggressive marketing and high occupancy rates in other Class A towers in downtown Springfield, have yielded several new tenants.

Keith Parent says he first looked at the space on the fifth floor of 1350 Main St. in 2001, or the last time his lease was due to expire and he knew he needed more square footage with which to grow his company.

He liked the accommodations at what is now also known as One Financial Plaza and the Sovereign Bank Building, especially two balconies that came as part of the deal, and also liked the address — it meshed nicely with the name of his company (Court Square Group), which he started several years earlier in a small space above Frigo’s deli on Main Street, in the section of downtown called Court Square, and thus named it accordingly.

But the asking price at the 17-story tower was a little steep, and besides, those managing what was then known as the SIS Center, now the TD Banknorth Center, put together a fairly attractive package, a deal he really couldn’t refuse. So he went there instead.

Fast-forward roughly seven years, and Parent, who has aggressive plans to grow his information-technology-solutions company and didn’t think he could do that in the Banknorth Building, was again looking at area office buildings. And somewhat to his surprise, the space he looked at in 1350 Main St. all those years ago was still vacant and very much available.

The fact that it was spoke volumes regarding the well-documented struggles that building has experienced in recent years, but Parent was focused on the future — of his company and also the building — and not the past. So he’s now the proud occupant of roughly 12,000 square feet, or most of that fifth floor.

He has his balconies (actually, three of them), a Court Square presence (again), plenty of room to grow, and something else — some satisfaction that comes from not only staying in downtown Springfield, but also helping to breathe some life into a building nearly 50% vacant, or dark, as they say in this business, since a major tenant moved out several years ago.

“I’m committed to Springfield — we started here, we like it here, and I think this is a city on the move,” said Parent, who told BusinessWest that he looked at options in area suburbs and also at other locations in Springfield — including space in the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College that eventually was taken by Liberty Mutual — but wanted to stay downtown. And Dan Eastman, an area contractor who recently acquired the bottom five floors, eventually gave him enough reasons to make that happen.

Bill Low, co-owner of floors 6-17 at One Financial Plaza and vice president of Samuel D. Plotkin & Associates, which manages the building and handles leasing efforts, said Parent isn’t the only one discovering, or rediscovering, the property, as the case may be.

In addition to the CSG signing, roughly 20,000 square feet has been leased out across floors 6-17 over roughly the past year, said Low, adding that this is just about what his ownership team set as a goal for that time frame. Other new tenants include Radiology & Imaging, which took 5,000 square feet on the 10th floor; the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.), which absorbed almost 6,000 square feet on the 11th floor; Moors & Cabot, an investment brokerage firm, which took 1,100 square feet on the 15th floor; and Entercom Communications Corp., which will locate a radio station in 3,310 square feet on the 12th floor.

“We’re on target … things are going pretty much according to plan,” said Low, who was joined in the purchase of floors 6-17 by Evan Plotkin, president of Samuel D. Plotkin; Ronald Eckman, owner of several area businesses and real estate properties; Michael Vinick, who has partnered with Eckman on many of those ventures; and William Lyons, co-founder of Blackstone Medical Inc. “There’s still a lot of vacant space, maybe 130,000 square feet, but we’re chipping away at it.”

The good news is that this constitutes perhaps 90% of the available Class A space available in downtown Springfield, he said, adding that the keys to filling this space include getting people to give it a look — new owners have made some significant improvements, said Low — and convincing would-be tenants that there isn’t really a problem with parking, just a perception of same.

In this issue, BusinessWest looks at CSG’s move and other developments at 1350 Main St. that are creating a strong sense of momentum.

Coming into View

Parent has spent virtually all of his 13 years in business in downtown Springfield.

After operating above Frigo’s for several years, he relocated to the fourth floor of Harrison Place and, more specifically, square footage once occupied by the former Third National Bank. This space included the bank’s conference room — and conference table, which was (and is) so large that the bank left it behind when it moved out, and Court Square Group did the same several years later.

“It was too big to move,” said Parent. “The good thing about that table was that it was so big we could get everyone in the company, more than 20 people, around it for meetings.”

Eventually, though, this was no longer the case, as CSG continued to grow and eventually commanded more space. This prompted Parent to look at several options and eventually choose the Banknorth space. Seven years later, it was, as Yogi Berra put it, déjà vu all over again. That’s because Parent was looking for room to grow, and he was back looking at space in 1350 Main Street once occupied years ago by BankBoston as one of his many options.

“We want to make this a $100 million company in five years,” he explained.

Those ambitious growth plans, coupled with aggressive efforts to turn the lights back on within those ‘dark’ floors at 1350 Main St., eventually brought Parent to that street address.

“Dan Eastman said, in essence, ‘what do we have to do to get you in here?’” said Parent, adding that new ownership pushed whatever buttons it needed to in an effort to ink a deal.

As he gave BusinessWest a quick tour of his new digs, which were still littered with moving boxes, Parent referenced some of the things that attracted him to it. The balconies were a factor, but also the many ‘corner offices’ that result from the building’s unique design and sharp angles. “There’s a lot of glass and a lot of light,” he said.

But it was more than these amenities that ultimately shaped his decision.

Indeed, there was a desire to back up his involvement with several area economic-development groups, especially the Regional Technology Corp., which he chairs, with deeds, and not just words about Springfield and the importance of its fiscal health to the rest of the region.

“I’ve thought about other places,” he said, adding that he has considered moving his headquarters to Marlboro, where he has another office. “I live in Palmer, so for me, I could be anywhere between here and Boston, but I wanted to stay in downtown Springfield.”

Dr. Laurie Gianturco, president of Radiology & Imaging, told BusinessWest that her venture had several requirements, or priorities, when a search was launched for larger quarters late last year. For starters, the company wanted enough space to bring 20 administrators who had been scattered in three locations together in one space — and accommodate expected future growth. It also desired a site convenient to those three locations — near Baystate Medical Center, Liberty Street in Springfield, and Elm Street in Enfield.

“One Financial Plaza had the right geography, and the right price,” she said, adding that initial concerns about parking and security were ameliorated.

It was a different, rather unusual set of requirements that brought the FDIC to 1350 Main St. Specifically, there was a seismic-compliancy issue that had to be met.

Elaborating, but only slightly, KiJuan William-Dickerson, a spokesperson for the agency, said federal offices must now be located in buildings built to certain specifications regarding earthquakes and the ability to understand them. She couldn’t say exactly what the requirement was, but did know that the agency’s former local address, 489 Whitney Ave. in Holyoke, did not meet specifications (thus necessitating a move), and One Financial Plaza did.

It is also within five miles of the Holyoke location (another federal requirement so that employees do not have to relocate to continue working for the agency), and it offered what William-Dickerson called “the most value” of any of the few sites that did meet the seismic requirement.

Thus, the FDIC took 5,962 square feet, and moved 32 employees into downtown Springfield last December. Some of them have no doubt become regulars at Palacio (Italian for Palace), the coffee and sandwich shop that new ownership lured to 1350 Main St. last year. There have been several other additions and improvements, said Low, noting that the fountain facing Court Square has been restored, and there have been renovations to common areas, as well as other updating and cleaning.

Moving forward, the leasing strategy will be to continue to fill vacancies on occupied floors and leave several of the vacant floors intact for possible full-floor or multiple-floor tenants, said Low, adding that if, over time, demand for larger spaces doesn’t materialize, then ownership will commit more of those floors to smaller tenants.

“If a big tenant comes along, that’s fine,” he said, “but we want to lease about 20,000 square feet a year, and we’ll do it any way we have to.”

Let There Be Lights

Parent told BusinessWest that the name ‘Court Square’ would have stayed on his company no matter where he wound up in his latest move. “I would just have to do a lot more explaining,” he said, referring to what life would have been like had he moved to one of the suburbs, another section of Springfield, or Marlboro. “But now, this fits nicely.”

It does, and his move to the fifth floor, ultimately delayed seven years, represents a positive step for CSG, One Financial Plaza, and downtown Springfield. All this will be celebrated out on those balconies, when Court Square Group stages an open house on June 4.

It will be a moving story — in more ways than one.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

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