The Big Boom: Business, residential, media all roaring in Stamford

Fairfield County Business Journal 07.26.2021


The Big Boom: Business, residential, media all roaring in Stamford

By Kevin Zimmerman

The Stamford Downtown district boasts that “This is the Place!” in its marketing and branding. But, according to the city’s Director of Economic Development Thomas Madden, these days that phrase pretty much applies to Stamford’s entirety.

“It’s been pretty positive here,” he admitted with a laugh. “Even during Covid, we’ve had seven or eight new restaurants open – more opened than closed – we can’t build apartment buildings fast enough, and we’ve got all these companies coming here.”

Those companies include ITT, moving its headquarters from White Plains to Stamford, and Tomo, which recently announced plans to formally establish its headquarters in the city. As for Philip Morris International, which has said it’s moving its HQ from Manhattan to “Fairfield County,” it seems a safe bet that it too will end up in Stamford, though Madden wasn’t willing to lay odds on it.

“That was more of a state thing,” he said of the PMI deal, referring to the Connecticut Department of Economic Development and AdvanceCT. “But we supplied information about Stamford and the buildings available, and how company employees like the opportunity to have big houses and stuff like that.

“We’re doing our part as part of the team” with DECD and AdvanceCT, he said. “It’s been a pretty good partnership for the last couple of years.”

As further proof, Madden noted that he happened to catch the news in late June that Tomo had secured $70 million in seed funding. Knowing that the firm’s co-founder Greg Schwartz has recently bought a house in New Canaan, Madden said he called up DECD Commissioner David Lehman and AdvanceCT President and CEO Peter Denious to say, “You may want to reach out to him!”

“Greg loves Connecticut,” Madden continued, “and together we were able to make the case that it made more sense financially to establish its headquarters here than in Seattle or Austin.”

In addition to those cities, Tomo has offices in Dallas and Houston.

While the Covid effect – which saw thousands of New York City residents flee for the less-congested climes of Connecticut – has had a positive impact on Stamford, the fact remains that the city was doing pretty well before the pandemic. In addition to the above, since 2017 Stamford has welcomed Henkel from Scottsdale, Arizona and Diageo from Norwalk, as well as securing office renewals from such firms as Cenveo, Thomason Reuters and Ernst & Young – not to mention the 16 ½-year lease signed by WWE in 2019 to move its headquarters from 1241 E. Main St. to the 415,000-square-foot, three-building complex at 677 Washington Blvd. Although the media company has been on something of a cost-cutting spree of late, it reaffirmed in its 2020 annual report that it still expects to make the move, though it revised the relocation’s date from spring of 2021 to “late 2022.”

Meanwhile, the city has undeniably benefited from the Covid effect as well. “What Stamford is offering is great housing availability, open space, and a great lifestyle with the whole ‘work/live/play’ atmosphere,” Madden said. “But it’s not only a workforce moving in here that’s new, but people from the area moving back here to the places where they grew up.”

He estimated that over 1,000 units have been added over the past couple of months, “and we expect that to climb over the next three or four months as more people rush in. There’s already a huge waiting list for some of them.”

Madden said the occupancy rate for all of Stamford’s apartments now stands at close to 97%.

He added that during a recent lunch with the powers behind a new company about establishing a presence in the city, “I made the case that you can look up and see the sky, or walk down to the water and put your does in the sand,” he said. “Add in that your taxes are so much cheaper than in New York – property taxes are half of what they’re paying in Westchester County — and they said, ‘How did we not look at this place before?’”

The film and TV production work is also picking up in Stamford, he said, noting that the forthcoming biopic The Good Nurse recently finished filming in the city (“They probably spent about $2 million here during production”), with Disney live-action feature Chang Can Dunk and Netflix movie The Noel Diary shooting scenes there as well. A&E, which has an office in Stamford, is also producing television episodes.

Some of the momentum, he said, will be attributable to The Village as it continues to make its presence felt. The 133,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor work-play environment at 860 Canal St. houses Wheelhouse Entertainment — whose CEO Brent Montgomery developed the property with his wife Courtney – and ITV America, along with a host of high-profile restaurants, breweries and other firms.

“What (the Montgomerys) have done there is absolutely amazing,” Madden said. “They’re pretty much filled up and there are still a lot of people who want to go into that building. It’s an attraction upon itself. I’ve probably talked to 10 different financial companies looking to invest, and they all said, ‘We had no idea, how can we be a part of this?”

Meanwhile, he said that additional announcements about companies moving to Stamford – including one from Westchester – would probably be made shortly, the first possibly by the beginning of August.

“We’re just doing our job here,” Madden said, “building up a city.”