MANCHESTER — The president of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield New Hampshire says the decision to move its headquarters downtown was based both on its commitment to the city and its real estate needs.
"The city is a customer of ours, a lot of the community support we do is in and around downtown, including the marathon," Anthem President Lisa Guertin said. "It's a good work environment for our associates. It's a really good move for us."
Guertin said there were also practical reasons for the move. It currently is the sole tenant at 3000 Goffs Falls Road, a large building that overlooks Pine Island Pond on the south side of the city.
Its lease expires in April 2014, and Guertin said the company had been looking for a new location for its headquarters. "One reason is this building is too big for us at this point," she said.
In the early 1990s, when Blue Cross Blue Shield first moved to the property, then the Home Insurance building, it had 750 employees. Guertin said Anthem has 500 employees statewide, but half of them do not work at its headquarters.
The 250 on-site employees will be making the move to downtown.
Guertin said she conducted an informal survey of her employees leading up the decision.
"As expected, some people love our location here, but the majority I'd say favored moving to downtown. There's no difference in the average commute time," she said. "I think the support is there, and I think as time goes on people will get more excited."
She added that a fitness center will be built as part of extensive renovations to take place before Anthem moves into the downtown building, 1155 Elm Street, early next year.
Guertin conceded that the one "potential drawback" of moving downtown was the availability of parking. In order to finalize the lease agreement with Anthem, the building's owner sought to buy the city's easement for the 68 ground-floor parking spaces in the garage for $510,000.
The deal was approved by aldermen on Tuesday, but not before some criticized the potential impact on small businesses that rely on the public parking spaces.
Guertin said it was important that all Anthem employees had the ability to park on the premises, which is assured with the addition of the ground-floor spaces.
"At one point there was discussion that some folks would park in the garage and others would not. That would create a have and have-not situation among associates. If some should be there, they should all be there," she said.
The city's easement for the ground-floor spaces at 1155 Elm dates back its construction in the late 1980s.
Until 2011, the largest tenant in the eight-story building was Bank of America. Its employees used a separate entrance to park on the upper levels of the garage. The ground floor is a pay lot; monthly passes are also sold.
Alderman-At-Large Dan O'Neil has raised concerns about how the loss of the spaces will impact small businesses in the area. He noted the Apple Therapy clinic is directly opposite the garage, and that the New Hampshire Orthopaedic Center is moving from the same block.
A spokeswoman for the company said the availability of parking was part of its decision, but that it was mostly based on the desire to consolidate at its Bedford office.
"The Anthem thing is fabulous for downtown Manchester," O'Neil said. "I just think as soon as we knew about this, there needed to be some consideration of the small businesses in the area that rely on that parking."
The owner of 1155 Elm, Farley White Interests, which is located in Boston, sought all 68 of the ground floor spaces, rather than just the 50 requested by Anthem, because another tenant is set to move into the building.
Farley White principal John Power said he couldn't identify the tenant at this time, but he said it was a company moving from elsewhere in the state and would occupy 8,000 square feet in the building. Power agreed to meet with the aldermen to see if they could come up with a way to make some spaces in the garage available to the public at certain times.
Power stressed the positive aspects of the deal. "We're trying to bring 250 jobs to the downtown. It's been a long time since that happened," Powers said.
He added that once the new tenants move in, 1155 Elm will be over 90 percent occupied. "It's wonderful. It's a testament to the quality of the building itself and to the environment along Elm," he email@example.com