Aetna’s New Corporate Home Is At Center Of Digital Future – Hartford Courant
As tourists at Chelsea Market were weaving in and out of shops and restaurants during lunchtime Thursday, others made a bee-line for the elevators.
These bear the names of the corporate giants â Google, Youtube, MLB.com, Food Network â that Aetna Inc., will call neighbors once the insurance company moves into its new headquarters at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 16th Street in 2018.
While the Chelsea and Meatpacking District neighborhoods have long been a destination for shopping, eating and clubbing, Aetna and its CEO Mark T. Bertolini see the future in this vibrant Manhattan scene.
This is ground zero for what Bertolini calls the “the knowledge economy hub,” where the insurance giant can tap into a talent pool of “innovators” expected to help Aetna transform itself into a 21st Century digital health company. The company plans to add about 250 jobs at its New York headquarters, many of them new hires.
On Thursday, it was possible to see a glimpse of the potential Aetna hopes to embrace, where it will find the “younger people, technologists, innovation” that Bertolini told CNBC are vital to its future.
A man who carried golf clubs down the street said he works for G1 Quantum, a clean-energy company focused on fusion technology that’s based near New York University. He was headed to the Golf Club at Chelsea Piers.
Two women jogging on Ninth Avenue said they were software engineering interns at Google. The campus does have a gym, they say, but the fresh air is better.ã
Two dozen companies share space with Google in its building, including Cornell Tech and Black Girls Code. On Thursday, dozens of people were filing in to hear a talk on Spinnaker, an open-source system for coding.
The surrounding neighborhood, with its mix of entertainment, art, shopping, high tech and upscale living, is emblematic of what Bertolini says Aetna is searching for: “places where people want to hang out.” It is a striking contrast from the company’s massive colonial revival headquarters building in Hartford.
Aetna’s new home â a “trophy office building” resembling stacked glass cubes designed by Rafael Vinoly and now under construction â is sandwiched between Apple’s flagship store and Chelsea Market. Its features include a rooftop park, offices with high ceilings, open floor plans and glass windows that look out on a busy neighborhood that includes The Standard hotel, the High Line and Whitney Museum of American Art.
Across the neighborhood, developers have begun taking full advantage of the sweeping views of the Hudson River, and their own clients’ environmental interests, by working rooftop gardens and lush terraces into designs.
The new Aetna headquarters at 61 Ninth Ave. will be no different, with so-called “pocket parks” on each floor, according to the building’s website.
The nearby High Line, an elevated, linear park built on an old railroad spur, offers yet another view, and an escape from the commercial frenzy below.
One neighborhood nightclub, Bungalow 8, recently rebranded as a lounge called The Lately to better cater to the more serious employees filling the area’s commercial buildings. General manager Adriana Daci said she hopes to attract customers who don’t have the patience for nightclubs with exclusive guest lists or hours that start at 11 p.m.
“I feel like it’s not their scene,” Daci said. “They’d rather just grab a drink than walk into a place where there’s loud music and you can’t even hear someone talk.”
Inside New York City’s Chelsea Market a casual visitor finds whole steamed lobsters, squid-ink ravioli, fresh chanterelle mushrooms, Matcha tea â any of which you’d be hard pressed to find in downtown Hartford, let alone on Farmington Avenue.
On Thursday, people shopping and working there said the block is quiet, safe and popular with tourists and locals alike. And while it’s technically in Chelsea, Aetna’s new headquarters will benefit from the recently shifting boundaries of the wealthier Meatpacking District.
“If you say ‘Meatpacking,’ there’s more money. The name, it’s something fancy,” said Kherroubi Mhamed, who sells jewelry on Ninth Avenue, outside the construction zone of 61 Ninth. “They want people to say, ‘Oh, I went out in Meatpacking last night.’ It’ll be like Soho, but better than Soho.”