Schlumberger leases get hearing Wednesday

Proposed long-term leases for two of the three remaining former Schlumberger buildings — the Philip Johnson building and the auditorium beside it — will be presented for questions and comments at a public hearing Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in town hall.

Both leases are scheduled to come before voters for approval at a Town Meeting two weeks later — Wednesday, Feb. 22, also at 7:30 in town hall.

“The people of Ridgefield said they didn’t want us to sell the property — to lease the buildings — and that’s what we’re doing,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.

Marconi views the leases as the selectmen’s effort to act on the will of townspeople, as expressed since the town paid $6 million for the 45-acre property in 2012. While sales of a 10-acre parcel off Sunset Lane and five acres off Old Quarry Road were approved, voters rejected a proposed sale of the central 30 acres to an art collector who proposed a low-intensity use of the site.

The Schlumberger Citizens Committee’s surveys and studies of public opinion also suggest a desire to protect the land from potential intense development — the initial argument for buying it.

Both leases are for $1 a year initially, with the tenants responsible for investing in the restoration of the buildings, which have been empty and deteriorating for years, and then paying more traditional rent in the later stages of each lease. Under both leases, there are common area maintenance charges even during the $1-a-year period, and the tenants are also responsible for their own utility costs and liability insurance.

The Philip Johnson building would be rented to BassamFellows, a New Canaan-based design firm that would use it as business offices and to show some of its products, such as high-end furniture, to industry buyers. The proposed lease is renewable out to 30 years with an initial period of 13 years out to 2030 at $1 a year, plus a $600 a month common area maintenance charge. The lease changes from the initial $1-a-year terms to something closer to market rate after the first 13 years. Rents rise from $8,495 per month in 2030 to $10,780 per month in 2046.

BassamFellows is a contemporary design and furniture firm headed by Scott Fellows and Craig Bassam. They envision the building being used by fewer than 20 people.

The main business is “architectural and design services,” but they also design and market modern furniture and other high-end consumer goods.

“The building will be our office, our design studio and showroom of sorts,” Fellows said.

Theater group

The auditorium beside the Philip Johnson building would be rented to ACT of Connecticut, a Ridgefield-based group of theater people — led by Katie and Bill Diamond, Daniel Levine, and Bryan Perri — who plan shows and educational programs there.

That lease would be renewable every five years out to 20 years, ending in 2037. The initial rent is $1 a year, plus a $400-per-month common area maintenance charge. For the final five-year renewal period, from March 2032 to March 2037, the total rent would increase to $2,000 per month.

“They’re long-term leases, both of them, because we’re asking the lessees to invest substantial funds into the renovation of both buildings,” Marconi said.

Both leases are on file in the town clerk’s office and available for public viewing, and they’re also posted on the town’s website,

Members of the former Schlumberger Citizens Committee, which studied the property’s future for the selectmen and made recommendations — including the rental of the two buildings to the tenants the selectmen negotiated the leases with, support the leases.

Chairman Dick Larson this week released a question-and-answer sheet detailing background to the lease agreements and some analysis.

“The former committee, to a person, believes that these are the right uses for these two buildings,” Larson said. “They reflect the substantial survey and analysis we did during our committee’s time, and provide reasonable economic value as we turn two buildings that have been neglected into two that are economically useful and ready to use.”

The town has no immediate plans for the third building that still remains from the Schlumberger corporate campus, the warehouse-like “skydome building.”