February 1, 2020
DANBURY — For years, the 1.2 million-square-foot former Union Carbide world headquarters near the woods on the west side of the city sat mostly empty.
Now, the vision of turning the massive, hollowed-out building into a thriving destination for employers, tenants and the public is coming to pass.
“It’s essentially a city within a city,” said Michael Basile, project manager for Summit Development, which purchased the building — known in a later incarnation as the Matrix Corporate Center — for $17.8 million in 2018.
Some amenities, including a fitness center and food services, are already open to the public, while developers will soon seek city approval for the 400 apartments they plan to build, primarily for young professionals and empty-nesters, over the next two years.
About one-third of the 600,000 square feet of commercial space has already been leased, with developers actively negotiating to lease another 75,000 square feet.
The development of the building, now called Summit @ Danbury, is part of the rapid growth on the west side of the city.
Between Abbey Woods and Rivington by Toll Brothers, more than 1,000 townhouses and apartments have been built in the area known as the “The Reserve.”
This west side boom comes as Danbury seeks to reinvigorate its downtown area with new sidewalks and other aesthetic improvements to attract development.
At the same time, the school population is accelerating, largely due to the city’s strong housing market, low unemployment and attractiveness to immigrants, demographers have said. Developers do not expect the Summit to bring in many children, but have promised to pay an additional tax each year in advance of any student growth.
Recovering after ‘false hopes’
The building, constructed in the 1980s as the corporate headquarters for Union Carbide, had long been seen as a thorn in the city’s side.
Union Carbide once had thousands of employees at its headquarters. But the company’s presence in the building depleted following a catastrophic 1984 accident at one of its plants in Bhopal, India, where at least 5,200 people died.
The Danbury property had been in foreclosure and was about 13 percent leased and occupied before Summit Development purchased it. The previous owner, who had bought it in 2008 for $73 million, died in a car accident in 2015. Afterward, companies like Praxair, Boehringer Ingelheim and General Motors fled to other buildings.
Now, it could be a boon to Danbury’s economy, Mayor Mark Boughton said.
“It’s actually going to be a really important turning point for that building, for what has historically been described as a white elephant,” he said.
Summit hopes to act on the promise of the massive space, with its unique architecture.
“We’re essentially in the get-it-done mode,” Basile said. “This building has languished so long, a lot of false hopes, and I think our objective is to come in and essentially make an impact right away.”
The immediate goal is to entice the wider public, not just the employees who work there, into the building, Basile said.