UConn trustees voted unanimously Friday to sell the former West Hartford campus to a high-tech firm, a first step in that company’s plan to locate its global headquarters in Connecticut and create hundreds of jobs based at the site.
Seven Stars Cloud Group Inc. is working with state officials to establish its global headquarters for technology and innovation at the former UConn regional campus, which the University will sell to the company for $5.2 million.
The sale and purchase agreement is expected to be signed next week, with the final transition of ownership from UConn to Seven Stars Cloud Group expected in early fall.
UConn stopped using the property as an academic campus last year when it moved those operations to downtown Hartford. The University had worked in the time since then to sell the campus, both because it had no future use for the property and to avoid the annual $500,000 cost to maintain it while it was empty.
Seven Stars has agreed to buy the 58-acre property and its buildings now, even though it will later need the town of West Hartford’s approvals for the proposed development. The UConn property sale itself is not contingent upon West Hartford’s approval.
“Once the sale is complete, the company will take all of the risks to work with the town in permitting for the use they intend for it,” Scott Jordan, UConn’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said at Friday’s special meeting of the Board of Trustees.
Seven Stars has also agreed to assume full responsibility to address any environmental conditions that need attention on property, and has agreed to back that commitment with a financial assurance and an environmental insurance policy.
UConn has worked closely with Connecticut environmental officials in recent years regarding conditions on the site after PCBs were found in window caulking and some other building materials, which is not uncommon for buildings like those that were constructed before PCBs were banned.
“Seven Stars Cloud is aware of these findings and will accept the property as is,” Jordan said.
Taken as a whole and given its prime location, UConn had long felt that the property has enough potential economic value to make it worthwhile for a developer to purchase the site and remediate the PCBs as part of a redevelopment plan.
Seven Stars Cloud is a Nasdaq-listed global financial technology company that leverages artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to transform traditional financial assets, as well as industrial, media, and consumer assets, into digital ones.
The company expects to create about 330 jobs at the site in coming years as a participant in a program through the Department of Economic and Community Development.
The trustees’ vote to sell the West Hartford property was unanimous Friday among those who participated in the special meeting. Shari Cantor, a UConn trustee who is also mayor of West Hartford, did not participate and has recused herself from discussions on the topic to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
West Hartford currently leases ball fields from UConn on the east side of Trout Brook Drive. The sale to Seven Stars gives the town the rights to keep using the fields through the end of the current agreement with UConn – which expires in June 2020 – but also gives the town the right to extend the term for five more years to June 2025.
The 58-acre property currently includes five buildings, along with associated parking and open acreage near Asylum Avenue and Trout Brook Drive.
UConn previously had a tentative agreement with the Town of West Hartford for the municipality to purchase the former campus site, but the town later terminated the agreement and the University started marketing the property directly to attract potential buyers.
Despite budget constraints, however, UConn cannot use the $5.2 million to help pay for personnel costs or other expenses covered by its annual operating budget, or to make up for money that the state has cut from the block grant it gives UConn each year.
Rather, the money must be applied to capital projects to meet state law and the requirements of the bonds that were issued for improvements to the West Hartford campus. Jordan said one of the projects that will be funded with the money is the removal of contaminants at the former site of the UConn Stamford garage, which the University demolished earlier this year to make way for surface parking.
Since the University marketed the property itself, there is no real estate broker and no commission that will decrease the amount returning to UConn for capital project costs.
Upon closing, the maintenance and operations expenses to UConn will end, although Seven Stars has agreed that the UConn Extension Service could keep occupying the former Information Technologies Building at no cost through Nov. 29.
Gov. Malloy and Bruno Wu, chairman and chief executive officer of Seven Stars Cloud Group, said during the announcement earlier this week at the State Capitol that they want West Hartford to be a partner in discussions about how the development occurs at the centrally located site.
“We also want to become a very good citizen of the West Hartford local community, because the campus is a beautiful piece of property,” Wu said, noting they hope to modernize and reuse some of the existing buildings and will also add more landscaping, a spring, and other park-like features.
“We have already engaged the best architectural firms that would help us make sure that the campus will become more like a public park,” he said.