HARTFORD — Hartford HealthCare’s $14 million vision for bringing as many as 700 workers into the heart of downtown Hartford as part of a massive office renovation was rolled out just as the pandemic struck in 2020.
Now, as the health care system’s project, at the prominent corner of Trumbull and Pearl streets diagonally across from the XL Center, nears completion, it could be a major catalyst for a city looking to regain lost revitalization momentum in the pandemic’s aftermath.
“We are trying to create more progress economically for everyone but also allow us to create an environment that will transform the health care system and continue to make Connecticut a center of world-class health care,” Hartford Healthcare CEO and President Jeffrey Flaks said on a recent tour. “This is the kind of place — you’re thinking differently in an environment like this than you would.”
The project, Flaks said, is meant to both inspire innovation, which the city has been working to foster, and develop a deeper connection to the city.
As of Monday, Hartford HealthCare, the parent of Hartford Hospital and six other hospitals in the state, will have moved 550 employees into 100 Pearl St. The relocating employees will include Flaks and other top executives, officially establishing the office complex as the health system’s corporate headquarters — its name and logo already hoisted atop the complex — and a nerve center for health care innovation.
Hartford HealthCare employees have been relocating to 100 Pearl since the summer of 2020, beginning with its patient care access center. Bringing employees to the complex is part of a consolidation of nearly a dozen offices in Newington, Wethersfield, Farmington and on its Hartford Hospital campus, freeing up more space for patient care.
Hartford HealthCare’s corporate headquarters was previously atop downtown’s One State Street on the riverfront.
Establishment of the new headquarters — and the relocation of employees — is welcome news for a downtown that has suffered — as many have across the country — with high-profile corporate office space downsizings, as a consequence of the pandemic.
The downsizings have followed a dramatic shift in the workplace to working at home or just part-time in the office. Fewer workers have taken a toll on local businesses and restaurants — and downtown’s overall vibrancy, which was seeing promising strength before the pandemic.
Flaks said the move by Hartford HealthCare comes in contrast to those downsizings.
“This is a city that is going to come back to life post-COVID,” Flaks said. “We’re all in. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. And we’re doing it.”
A ceremony marking the major milestones in the project is planned for Nov. 17.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said Hartford HealthCare’s commitment to downtown “in such a big way” is a “hugely important part of our post COVID-19 comeback.”
“The move to 100 Pearl represents a major investment, a major commitment, and a powerful vote of confidence by one of Hartford’s biggest and most important employers.,” Bronin said.
The health system employees that are now relocating to 100 Pearl are largely in professional services — legal, purchasing, marketing, human resources and treasury — that often bring in visitors that will travel by airport, use parking garages and dine at restaurants. All those visitors will contribute to the local economy, Flaks said.
Earlier this year, Hartford HealthCare announced plans to also open a training and orientation center in nearby One Financial Plaza, the “Gold Building,” which would bring 250 into the city twice a week. Flaks said it now possible the center also could be located at 100 Pearl.
The health system also said the downtown location will allow it to build on a goal of integrating deeper into community — partly by making space available to local groups and organizations.
Hartford HealthCare’s investment is part of $24 million in renovations at 100 Pearl, shared with the building’s owner, Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC, of Brooklyn, N.Y. Shelbourne is downtown Hartford’s largest commercial landlord.
The office complex also has seen other expansions. The Hartford commercial lending office of Middletown-based Liberty Bank more than tripled its existing lease in 100 Pearl, expanding its office from three in 2021 to 13.
The bank’s downtown office is a key component of Liberty’s strategy to become a commercial lending force along the I-91 corridor from New Haven to Hartford to western Massachusetts.
But, by far, Hartford HealthCare will be the largest tenant, soon occupying 60% of the office complex. The renovations are intentionally intended to blur the lines between interior spaces and the street outside. Emphasizing glass that existed previously in the late 1980s structure — and adding more — in aimed at conveying a sense of activity and the innovation behind it to passersby on the street.
“I wanted to open up this whole building to the streets of Hartford so that people could see people working,” Flaks said.
Murals painted by local artists such as Corey Pane and Ben Keller — one of them depicting the Life Star helicopter — will be illuminated and intended to make a dramatic impression from the street, especially at night.
An abstract version of a heart will hang in the soaring main lobby, encompassing, Flaks said, the spirit of the health system. The heart will be illuminated in — that will be illuminated in different colors, say pink for breast care awareness month, multi-color for pride month and even green for St. Patrick’s Day.
The renovations are transforming what was for decades the drab corner of Pearl and Trumbull with an Apple-inspired glass “cube” and new, outdoor seating intended as a destination, rather than just a place to hurry through.
In a glassed-in space just to the left of the cube, the health system’s marketing will film and live stream its interviews with physicians and others, just steps away from the street.
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“My vision was like what you see in New York, the Today Show being [broadcast],” Flaks said.
The interior designs are devoid of straight lines in favor of curves to convey a sense of motion and moving forward. Office walls are rendered in glass curves and are smaller than the typical office to encourage use of ample collaboration spaces of various sizes, considered key to health care innovation.
Senior executives won’t be ensconced on a top floor, but instead on the second floor to be close to the innovation ecosystem.
“A lot of people say, ‘You’re so exposed,’ ” Flaks said. “That’s the point.”
A key focal point at the main entrance off Pearl Street will be the Ideation Lab, called “Launch,” expected to be completed by January. The lab, with movable modular furniture, will host med-tech start-ups Hartford HealthCare is working as well as accelerators. The health system also will use it for bigger group collaboration.
“This is where the next big things happen,” Flaks said.
Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at [email protected].