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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 28, 2013

Pfizer Tears It All Down

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Posted by Derek

Yeah, I know, that's a headlines that could have been used several times over the years. But this time, they mean it: the company is demolishing their former research headquarters off Eastern Point Road in Groton. And local officials and developers aren't happy at all:

Officials involved in the negotiations said last-minute obstacles thrown up by Pfizer after a major developer had offered to purchase the 750,000-square-foot complex known as Building 118 made it appear as though the pharmaceutical giant never had been serious about finding a buyer.

. . .(Developer Stu) Lichter echoed legislators' suspicions that Pfizer never really intended to sell the building, despite the fact that it will cost more to demolish the structure than it would have to sell it, even for a nominal price.

Lichter said Pfizer initially told him that the company had a schedule for demolition, but if a deal could be worked out within a certain timetable, officials would seriously consider an offer.

But, according to Lichter, Pfizer kept bringing up additional issues that would stall negotiations.

Guys, wrecking balls are what Pfizer does.

Comments (29) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. Rock on March 28, 2013 11:52 AM writes...

What a shame, but not surprising. It is not one building but a complex of 6-7 buildings all with the prefix 118-x. They were built at various times during the expansion years, some fairly new, and most have undergone significant renovations over the years.

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2. johnnyboy on March 28, 2013 12:07 PM writes...

I just don't get. 118 wasn't exactly new and shiny, but still, if someone is ready to buy it for more than the price of demolition, why wouldn't you sell it ? I mean, the company is now largely led by bean-counters, whose main qualification should be their ability to save money - can't they even manage that ?

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3. Trashbagel on March 28, 2013 12:42 PM writes...

Here's the sales flyer.

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4. anon on March 28, 2013 12:46 PM writes...

To me, it would seem entirely reasonable that tearing it down would be (much) cheaper than the lawsuits and environmental remediation that would be needed if the land/building were sold but later found to be contaminated.

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5. NoDrugsNoJobs on March 28, 2013 1:22 PM writes...

A beautiful metaphor for what they do.......

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6. myma on March 28, 2013 1:24 PM writes...

I was thinking that it must be something to do with liability and hazardous materials too. Better to scrape it off, and get it certified clean (somehow) than to have the remotest possibility of an issue with a haz mat superfund site in 20-30-40 years time.

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7. Anonymous on March 28, 2013 1:26 PM writes...

#4 I agree. I'm certainly no fan of Pfizer but I certainly would not take a property developers word for anything. They are trying to lever the adverse publicity to get a great deal from Pfizer and I suspect it is along the lines of 'you give us the building for a dollar and you keep all future liabilities and we will make lots of money'. Developers are the only group of business folk with less integrity than Pfizer senior management.....

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8. Anon on March 28, 2013 1:43 PM writes...

It seems to me that Pfizer would turn a fantastic profit if they opened a business of manufacturing actual wrecking balls. No contest there.

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9. Yancey Ward on March 28, 2013 1:49 PM writes...

As the commenters above noted, the entire cost of selling the buildings to the developer includes the potential and unknown liabilities due to chemical contamination. Were I making the decisions, I would demolish the buildings, too. Getting a waiver from the developers to all future claims still won't eliminate, or even greatly reduce this risk factor. Environmental law is unforgiving this way.

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10. CMCguy on March 28, 2013 2:30 PM writes...

While understand liability issues may be present and of concern, while tearing down may eliminate potential long-term risks to future tenants possibly, what does it do as remediation of any immediate risk to workers and near-by residents, environmental by transferring whatever landfill site waste ends up in, unless of course the demo include full and appropriate measures.

#5 it's not a metaphor, its a Slogan...

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11. marklar on March 28, 2013 4:57 PM writes...

The supposed concern about future liabilities etc. did not stop Pfizer from selling the old Ann Arbor site to Univ. of Mich (albeit for an extreme discount). It's not like hazardous contamination is a new concern. Chalk it up to another curious decision made by Pfizer.
I think it's telling how bad things are in the Groton area when local officials keep trying to reach various deals with the wrecking crew known as Pfizer.

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12. Bruce on March 28, 2013 5:11 PM writes...

I would submit that tearing down the Groton site is about 10 years overdue-the intelligent thing to do would have been to keep the midwest sites and turn Groton into a park. Derek, your friend John Lamatina kept Groton based on proximity to his house, not on its productivity merits.

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13. Dr. Manhattan on March 28, 2013 6:49 PM writes...

Look for the entire Groton site to go away in 5 years or so. Pfizer's big bet now is up in the Cambridge, Ma, area, where hundreds of academic researchers will clamor to have Pfizer take over their projects and Pfizer will then revitalize the entire Pharmaceutical industry.

If you believe that, I have a bridge in New York you might be interested in. I also recently had a building in Groton to interest you, but that is gone now...

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14. eugene on March 28, 2013 7:29 PM writes...

Isn't Groton where Chantix was developed? I haven't heard much about it lately, but it was supposed to be a blockbuster. I think the electronic cigarette may have killed sales on that, although I don't know for sure.

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15. Sisyphus on March 28, 2013 9:25 PM writes...

Just think of all the great drugs that were discovered in those buildings....

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16. Nick K on March 29, 2013 12:22 AM writes...

The destruction of the know-how and implicit knowledge in the Groton (and Sandwich) sites is, in a sense, even worse than the demolition of the buildings. Pfizer is steadily deskilling and dumbing itself down.

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17. DuesEtV on March 29, 2013 3:45 AM writes...

They should turn it into something productive for the area & counter the decades of mergers.

The bean-counters could turn it into a biotech incubator for small businesses.

However they may read that stupid consultant report that IQ of scientist is directly proportional to distance they live to Cambridge..

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18. Bruce on March 29, 2013 4:30 AM writes...

@17 The Powerpointing inmates have been running the Pfizer asylum for at least 15 years. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

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19. Ricardo Rose on March 29, 2013 5:29 AM writes...

@ Nick K, it is funny you mention deskilling, I remember someone making approx numbers as to how many years of scientific experience Pfe had fired since 2008, it was something close to 12.000, that is a nice starting point to quantify, and hence put a number in dollars to what some of these companies have "lost".

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20. NH_chem on March 29, 2013 6:47 AM writes...

@ #13 You are spot on. I know of many people who were offered jobs in Groton when they bought out Wyeth and said "no thank you". There was no way that they were going to move from the Boston area to Groton only to be without any options if Pfizer pulled the plug on them.

Groton is a nice area but options are limited for scientists if something doesn't work out. At least if you are near Boston, you have a shot at something in the area.

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21. Nick K on March 29, 2013 7:27 AM writes...

#19 Ricardo Rose: In the short term, it makes sense to fire the scientists who discover and develop new drugs since there is an instant improvement to the company's bottom line. That's all the money men care about. In the long term this strategy leads to extinction. The real value of experience and know-how can't be expressed in dollar terms.

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22. ailg on March 29, 2013 7:34 AM writes...

In the long term we are all dead.

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23. Anonymous on March 29, 2013 8:24 AM writes...

Pfizer acquired a superfund site when they bought Wyeth who had embraced that tar ball when they bought AmCy. It is a costly $100,000,000s gift that just keeps giving year after year, so perhaps they now understand pollution liability in ways few do. I would scrape this site to the ground too, as there is no other way to liberate yourself form the mess Society thinks chemists leave in their wake.

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24. Hap on March 29, 2013 12:10 PM writes...

A) standard depressing whine - I think American business is deskilling itself - 1) now is all matters, financially (not only does firing people help the bottom line now, but it allows us to keep stock value long enough to cash out before everyone else takes it in the shorts), 2) we can get people elsewhere to do the hard work and then we can sell it, so why spend money doing anything, and 3) labor is much easier to control when its members are all replaceable cogs with no intrinsic value to the business (and when finding work is a game of musical chairs).

B) 23 - I'm guessing that Love Canal, NY would substantiate that thought, as would the people who live in many of the places Max Gergel owned and ran - "dump it over there and forget about it" was the chemical business's waste disposal credo for a long time. Eventually it changed (mostly because people forced it to), but for long term sites, well, there might still be "buried treasure" from earlier times. Unfortunately, with lots of things, reputations clean with more difficulty than land.

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25. a. nonymaus on March 29, 2013 12:38 PM writes...

This is great strategic thinking by Pfizer. If the site were sold, it would get them some money. On the other hand, it would also put the site in the hands of some other company that might be competent. This way, their competition has to start literally from the ground up. The city of Groton should seize the site by eminent domain to prevent this malicious destruction and wasting of something that was surely aided by generous tax breaks public infrastructure construction and other subsidies.

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26. Thomas McEntee on March 29, 2013 2:04 PM writes...

Pfizer also is paying for a $150 million clean-up at the old Upjohn North Haven (CT) site that they acquired with as part of the Pharmacia-Upjohn deal. I spent 4+ years there in the early 1980s as the Commercial Development manager for what then was Upjohn Fine Chemicals Division. When I interviewed for the position, the management never mentioned to me the environmental problems that had accumulated over decades or that Upjohn had been trying to sell the plant for years.

Prior to Upjohn, it was Carwin Chemicals, a company that had developed some interesting commercial diisocyanates that caught Upjohn Chemicals' attention. One of these was based on being able to run the benzidine rearrangement on a big scale, a capability honed through becoming the largest domestic producer of dichlorobenzidine (for Pigment Yellow 12). The organic chemists will realize what that entails...beginning with a chloronitroaniline...

Suffice it to say that decades of disposal practices predicated on having an unoccupied "back 40" left a mess for future generations to deal with. Having dealt with remediation technologies for US Air Force base cleanup back in the late 1980s to early 1990s, I'm not entirely convinced that thermal desorption is going to be the answer for all that lies beneath the surface. But it sounds good and Pfizer and their A&E contractor probably have their lines well rehearsed.

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27. Anonymous on March 29, 2013 4:35 PM writes...

If there are any environmental issues lurking on an old chemical site, they would probably be in contaminated soil from the days when you could still dump stuff out back. It sounds like the building Pfizer wants to demolish is fairly recent; I doubt there are any nasty surprises inside. I suspect their plan is to fence off the site and let it sit forever instead of taking their chances with a buyer, and they're demolishing the buildings to deter explorers after the site is abandoned.

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28. Mike C on March 30, 2013 2:34 PM writes...

While environmental liability seems to be the popular bet here, I'm going to say the answer is buried someplace in tax law, an incentive agreement they received from Groton or CT , or in a loan doc. I'm sure the other side of the agreement didn't mean to give Pfizer an incentive to bulldoze, but Pfizer inserted or found themselves a perverse incentive and now they're acting on it.

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29. Cirkusfripp on March 30, 2013 3:40 PM writes...

Pfizer, at one time was such a prolific chemistry group, now succumbs like the Romans to the Germanic hoardes......

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