Jeff Benedict on Pfizer’s Withdrawal from New London, and the Kelo Takings

Journalist Jeff Benedict is the author of an excellent book on the Kelo condemnations, that I reviewed here. In this Hartford Courant op ed, he discusses the Pfizer Corporation’s recent decision to close down its headquarters in the New London, Connecticut neighborhood where it had previously played a key role in instigating the notorious condemnations that led to the Kelo litigation:

I’m often asked if I’d consider writing a novel. My answer is always no, truth is better than fiction … and often harder to swallow.

Consider the bitter pill that Pfizer Inc. slipped New London this week. Barely a decade after constructing a $300 million research and development headquarters in the city, the pharmaceutical giant announced it was shutting down the facility. Just like that, New London will lose 1,400 jobs and become home to a gigantic, vacant office park that sprawls over a 24-acre campus.

Never mind that an entire residential neighborhood was bulldozed by New London to change the look of a 90-acre landscape around the Pfizer campus. And never mind that along the way the city used eminent domain to drive out homeowners and then fought a costly eight-year legal battle against holdouts Susette Kelo and her neighbors that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court….

After all the shouting, the developer ran out of money and the city has zero prospective replacements. Barren weed fields are all that exist where homes once stood.

Now that all of New London’s best-laid plans have been laid to rest, Pfizer is leaving, too. It’s tempting to suspect a connection. After all, let’s not forget that Pfizer never wanted to make its corporate home on the edge of New London’s urban Fort Trumbull neighborhood. “Pfizer wants a nice place to operate,” one well-connected Pfizer employee famously told a reporter shortly after New London officials courted the drug company. “We don’t want to be surrounded by tenements.”

What Pfizer wanted next door is what drove New London’s plan to raze buildings and replace them with a five-star hotel, a health club and spa, office space and upscale housing. At one point, Pfizer even talked about guaranteeing 50 percent occupancy at the hotel. The state did its part to sweeten the deal by kicking in close to $100 million in public money to the project, some of which was used to acquire and demolish private homes.

In the end, the Pfizer facility is the only thing that went up, although many would argue that a lot of taxpayer money went up, too — in smoke, that is. At least Pfizer employees haven’t had to look at tenements for the past 10 years. But how are those brownfields looking about now?

I have previously written about Pfizer’s withdrawal from New London and its role in the Kelo takings in this series of posts, and in a recent New York Times forum.