WFSB will stay in Hartford

Paul Anderson
Fri Aug 27 20:17:29 EDT 2004

Channel 3 in Hartford is moving out of Broadcast House at Constitution 
Plaza.  They've been there since they signed on in 1957 I believe.


WFSB Will Stay In Hartford

Deal Saves Officials From Vow To Lie Down In Front Of Moving Vans

Courant Staff Writer

August 27, 2004

Like most high-profile relationships, the possible breakup of this one 
began with a rumor.

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez heard that WFSB-TV, Channel 3, after 
nearly 50 years in the city, was considering leaving for the suburbs. 
He made a personal visit to the station to ask what he could do to make 
them stay.

That question sparked a months-long discussion that was both diplomatic 
and desperate, with Hartford officials wooing the station with personal 
attention, key pieces of city real estate and, if all else failed, a 
vow to lie down in front of the moving vans.

On Thursday city and station officials announced a less drastic 

WFSB will stay in the city, investing $20 million to build a modern 
broadcast facility on a prime piece of city-owned real estate at the 
edge of downtown. The city will help the station settle into its new 
home, by offering more than $1 million in tax abatements.

"They made it clear that they wanted us to stay, and it's always nice 
to stay where you're wanted," said Elden A. Hale Jr, vice president and 
general manager of WFSB.

The Hartford city council has called a special meeting Tuesday to 
receive a resolution authorizing the deal and begin the public process 
that would allow the mayor to sign a development agreement with WFSB 
and its parent company, Meredith Corp.

Under the deal, the city would sell the station a vacant, 3.4-acre 
parcel along Main and Trumbull streets for $800,000. The station also 
agreed to transfer its current broadcast facility at 3 Constitution 
Plaza to the city once it leaves.

The deal means the city holds on to a large taxpayer and also means the 
development of a vacant parcel that is a crucial connector of the 
central business district and the impoverished northernmost 
neighborhoods. WFSB's new building, to be completed in 2007, will be 
situated just north of I-84, and mark the first major commercial 
development north of the downtown corridor in decades.

There's another plus for the city, officials point out.

By taking control of the station's current Constitution Plaza property, 
city officials would have a stake in a prime piece of property that is 
just steps away from the hotel and convention center that is now rising 
at Adriaen's Landing.

For WFSB, which was being wooed with tax breaks from Rocky Hill and 
other suburban towns, the Hartford deal comes with some financial 
incentives. As part of the deal announced Thursday, WFSB gets a 
seven-year tax fixing plan that would gradually phase in the amount of 
property taxes the station would pay.

In its first year in the new building, the station would pay about 
$325,000 in property taxes, which is close to its current tax burden in 
the Constitution Plaza facility. The annual tax payment would increase 
gradually until the seventh year, when the station is expected to pay 
about $775,000 in property taxes, according to the city's initial 

This year, WFSB's tax bill in its current facility is about $417,500, 
which includes real estate taxes and personal property taxes, said 
Larry LaBarbera, the city's assessor.

Though it is nothing new for Hartford to offer tax abatements to a 
business, the nature of this particular business - a media company that 
reports on the very officials who are now helping it financially - 
raises some ethical questions among media watchers.

"They need to really state publicly that there is a firewall, and that 
what happens in the corporate office will not dictate what happens in 
the newsroom," said Rich Hanley, an assistant professor of journalism 
at Quinnipiac University.

Thursday's announcement "creates a need for them to reinforce with a 
statement that this in no way means that WFSB is in thrall to the city 
of Hartford," Hanley said.

Hale said that although the tax abatement was crucial to closing the 
deal, it was not the motivating factor.

Staying in Hartford, a city that levies a 15 percent tax surcharge on 
commercial properties, was always the more costly option for the 
station, Hale said. Building in the suburbs is cheaper, taxes in the 
suburbs are less, and some towns even offered a full tax abatement, at 
least initially, to the station.

In the end, Hale said, the station's decision had less to do with 
finances and more to do with a sense of civic duty.

"My feeling is if you're from downtown Hartford you need to stay in 
downtown Hartford," he said.

Hale broke the news to Rocky Hill officials Wednesday. Rocky Hill Mayor 
Todd Cusano said that while he is disappointed at the loss for his 
town, the station's decision is a noble one.

"I respect WFSB's loyalty and dedication to Hartford by not bailing out 
and leaving," he said

For a while during the negotiations Hartford officials weren't sure of 
the station's commitment to staying.

Station officials said they wanted to stay in the city, and toured 
several properties in Hartford, yet continued to describe a need for a 
building that had more suburban dimensions: a vast single floor for all 
of its operations and ample parking space.

"It was very difficult to read what their intentions were," said Matt 
Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff. "But the mayor wanted to be clear 
that he offered every opportunity."

At one point, city council majority leader John V. Bazzano said that to 
keep the station from leaving Hartford, he would personally lie down in 
front of its moving vans.

The tide turned four weeks ago, Hennessy said, when Hale requested a 
meeting with the mayor and gave a PowerPoint presentation that 
described the station's lengthy history with the city. Also included: a 
sketch drawing showing how WFSB could feasibly build a facility on the 
3.4-acre parcel near the highway, the one that the city is now selling 

WFSB's decision to stay in Hartford means the ugly patch along I-84 
known as "12B" will have an identity. It has been the subject of many 
grand plans (all aborted) in the past decade: a new city hall (1998); a 
minor league baseball stadium (2000); and a domed arena for the 
University of Connecticut men's basketball team (1995).

Courant Staff Writers Ken Byron and Tom Puleo contributed to this story.
Copyright 2004, Hartford Courant

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