Apr. 22--STAMFORD -- The woes of the financial services industry haven't interfered with The Royal Bank of Scotland's construction of a curvy, glass-and-terra cotta headquarters across Washington Boulevard from rival UBS, evident from I-95 and the MetroNorth line.
UBS, Switzerland's biggest bank, pioneered Stamford as a parallel universe to Wall Street in the mid-1990s, when it built a 13-story headquarters building on the east side of the street, just north of the MetroNorth rail station. UBS' building features a space the company calls "the world's largest columnless" trading floor.
Now, as UBS workers anxiously await fall-out from the company's massive mortgage-related write-downs, RBS -- Britain's second-biggest bank -- rides herd over a swarm of construction workers at its 12-story, 1 million-square-foot Americas headquarters at 600 Washington.
RBS's own write-downs have led it to seek billions in new capital to reinforce its balance sheet, but an RBS spokesman says the company still plans to move 1,850 employees into the building when it opens by mid-2009. The building, which RBS calls a "$500 million investment," has capacity for 3,000.
Stamford and Fairfield County business development officials say they have no indication the RBS project is likely to falter, despite financial sector turmoil. Next year is the first in which the bank could take advantage of earned tax credits offered by the state, $100 million over 10 years.
Already one of the most prominent features of the cityscape as seen from I-95 or a passing train, RBS' building will house its global banking and markets business and a securities brokerage unit now based in Greenwich. RBS also owns Providence-based Citizens Bank, Connecticut's seventh-largest bank. Citizens may or may not occupy space in the new building, a spokesman said.
Just about everyone who does work there will have a view of Long Island Sound or easy access to one.
Shaped like a boomerang or an inverted letter J, the longer side of the building faces south toward the water, parallel to I-95, which it overlooks, as well as the train station and the city's South End, site of the planned Harbor Point redevelopment project. The shorter side of the RBS building faces east, toward UBS.
The entirety of the eighth floor will be devoted to the kind of facilities that make it possible for employees to take breaks or run errands without straying too far from their desks. Besides restaurants, a coffee shop (possibly Starbucks) and a health club, there may be a dry cleaners, a newsstand and a small convenience store.
The amenities floor, as RBS calls it, will also serve as the gateway to a roughly one-acre landscaped roof garden with mahogany and granite surfaces. The roof garden's northwestern exposure offers a view of the Mill River below and a small walled cemetery, vestiges of small-town New England that dramatize Stamford's evolution as a 21st Century city colonized by global corporations.
"We're trying to be the employer of choice," said Phil Hobbins, RBS' project manager who moved to Connecticut from Scotland two years ago to oversee the project.
The centerpiece of the working areas will be an airy, 95,000-square-foot trading floor with two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. The sixth-floor trading space is designed to accommodate 1,000 traders. One floor up there's room for 400 more.
The trading floor at UBS, known as Swiss Bank when it came to Stamford, measures 103,000 square feet and has room for "over 1,000" traders, a UBS spokesman said.
Roger Ferris and Partners, a Westport architecture firm that has worked on projects for other financial services firms, including Morgan Stanley, designed the RBS building. Principal Roger Ferris said the open, horizontal design (which incorporates a six-story atrium starting on the sixth floor) represents a style more common in Europe now than in the U.S.
"Instead of building the tallest tower, it spreads out," he said.
Also in European fashion, RBS expects many workers to commute by train, though the project includes a 2,000-car garage that Ferris took pains to integrate into the main structure "as a base the building rises from" and wraps around.
Terra cotta-colored aluminum blades running across the exterior relate the garage's facade to terra cotta in the main office building.Since UBS moved to town a decade ago, Stamford has won a reputation in New York's financial services community as an affordable yet nearby alternative to New York. It's also closer to the Fairfield County homes of many Wall Street executives. In the last 10 years, Stamford has enjoyed a period of prominence and prosperity that has attracted major development unseen since the 1980s.
Besides the RBS project, several commercial and residential projects are under way or in the planning stages, including the 34-story Trump Parc luxury condominium and a 198-room Ritz Carlton hotel -- Connecticut's first -- that will incorporate parts of Stamford's old post office. The Ritz location is about a block from the RBS building.
There are some signs that tough times on Wall Street and tight credit markets have delayed some projects, and at least temporarily dampened interest among some firms that had been exploring a move to Stamford.
"We don't see right now major relocations out to Stamford," said Joseph McGee, a former state economic development official and now a vice president with The Business Council of Fairfield County.
"There's going to be a major realignment of banks in New York. Until that sorts itself out, relocation decisions are pretty much on hold."
McGee said the council has had no indication from RBS that its project is in jeopardy.
"We don't have a concern there," he said. "That looks pretty solid."
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Copyright (c) 2008, The Hartford Courant, Conn. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.