Jun. 30--STAMFORD -- Sheltered from yesterday's high humidity by an air-conditioned, carpeted tent, Royal Bank of Scotland executives and political leaders celebrated the approaching start of construction on the bank's trading complex off Washington Boulevard.
"We're truly excited to be here," RBS Greenwich Capital co-chief executive Ben Carpenter told a crowd of about 100 company executives, politicians and business leaders during a groundbreaking ceremony on the site of the planned building.
A kilted bagpiper played as guests entered the tent, while images of the building played on wide-screen televisions inside.
The $400 million complex is slated to hold a 95,000-square-foot trading floor, and 300,000 square feet of office space for 3,000 employees of RBS Greenwich Capital and RBS' corporate banking operations. RBS Greenwich Capital will move from Steamboat Road on the Greenwich waterfront, while the corporate banking office will move from Manhattan.
Carpenter thanked Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Mayor Dannel Malloy, and their economic development chiefs for moving the project along quickly.
"You have all shown a welcoming, cooperative and can-do spirit in bringing this project to fruition in record time," he said.
The state is providing $100 million in tax breaks for the building. As part of the incentive package, the city has agreed to forego part of the property tax revenue for the building's first five years.
City leaders also agreed to move Richmond Hill Avenue 100 feet to the north to create a larger building lot, and fast-tracked the approval process.
After speeches from Carpenter, Rell and Malloy, the crowd moved outside to watch them and other dignitaries thrust chromed shovels into the dirt, smile for the cameras and toss some dirt a few feet.
Malloy complained last week that construction crews were "just pushing dirt" because the state government was holding up construction over a dispute -- supposedly solved years ago -- about right-of-way sales and traffic restrictions.
Yesterday, Malloy thanked Rell.
"A profound thank you for your assistance and all of the people who work in state government," Malloy said. "I certainly want you to know, governor, how deeply appreciative the people of Stamford are for your efforts."
Malloy may run against Rell in November. Malloy is being challenged in an Aug. 8 Democratic primary by New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
Malloy and Rell touted the project's benefits for the state and city.
"This project's economic benefit is tremendous for the state of Connecticut," Rell said, saying that while RBS has pledged to bring 1,150 new jobs to the state in addition to the 700 employees coming from Greenwich, the building will have space for another 1,150 employees. "We'd like for you to fill that up," she said.
Malloy said the arrival of RBS establishes this city of 120,000 as a major financial center.
"What it really means is that Stamford's place in the financial industry in the world, as a capital of financial services, is now secure," he said.
The move will put two of the world's largest financial firms across the street from each other. UBS, which by market capitalization is the world's sixth largest, has the world's largest trading floor across Washington Boulevard.
RBS ranks eighth by market capitalization. Though its trading floor is designed to be about 8,000 square feet smaller than the one at UBS, and will initially hold about 800 traders, it could eventually hold as many as 1,400 by using built-in expansion space, project director Neil Grassie told a community group on Wednesday.
But RBS must start construction quickly if it expects to move into the complex in late 2008. And that can't happen until it resolves the questions over the state's property restrictions.
The state has maintained that the matter is an issue of negotiating a purchase price for certain property rights, but RBS, Stamford officials and others have argued that the previous owners of the property already paid the state for the property rights in question.
Company officials have called the issue a small one among many in such a complex project, but construction can't start until it is resolved.
The company has excavation permits to dig south of Richmond Hill Avenue, so it can continue to do some preliminary work, but can't start major construction until it gets the a traffic permit from the State Traffic Commission, said Frank Garagliano of Turner Construction. Turner will build the 500,000-square-foot complex for RBS.
Grassie, an RBS executive and architect who moved from Scotland to supervise the construction project, acknowledged Wednesday that a payment "could be" a solution to the dispute, but said it is not necessarily the only way forward.
The state Department of Transportation has receivedtwo independent appraisals for the property rights in question. One involves the former Clinton Avenue Extension, which the city closed when it sold the land to Louis Dreyfus Property Group, which later sold it to RBS; the other involves rights of way next to the Interstate 95 on-ramp from Washington Boulevard, where part of the building would go.
"The minute we have that price negotiated, the State Traffic Commission is ready to grant their approvals," Department of Transportation spokesman Chris Cooper said.
Rell, who DOT officials said last week was not involved in negotiations, said the DOT has passed the appraisals to Sheldon Goldfarb, RBS Greenwich Capital's managing director and general counsel.
"Sheldon told me, I understand the ball is in our court now," Rell said.