World's largest hedge fund pitches upgrades to wooded Connecticut campus

The world's largest hedge fund is proposing upgrades to its wooded campus in Connecticut, a project that brings a new set of hurdles after the collapse last year of a plan to relocate its offices to a peninsula on Long Island Sound.

Bridgewater Associates, which manages some $169 billion, is proposing to overhaul its office buildings and create an underground parking garage on its headquarters at the confluence of two rivers in Westport.

"This is not routine at all. This is a pretty ambitious project," said Alicia Mozian, the town's conservation director.

She said the project, which involves work in a flood zone, could require the involvement of the Army Corps of Engineers, and her department will likely need help vetting the proposal from an outside consultant.

Connecticut is the world's third biggest center for hedge funds, behind only New York and London, but the relative abundance of suburban space is no guarantee it will be easy for firms to build the office of their dreams. Bridgewater had the commitment of up to $115 million in state assistance to relocate and expand at a waterfront location in Stamford — part of the governor's signature economic development program — before the firm ran into local opposition and withdrew the plan.

Bridgewater, founded by Ray Dalio in 1975, serves clients including central banks and foreign governments and has been based in Westport for the last 17 years.

At a presentation last week to the town's planning and zoning commission, Bridgewater facilities chief Neil Grassie said the firm ideally would like to stay in town but the buildings are outdated and no longer meet its requirements. He said the plan aims to enhance the natural beauty of the site with respect for biodiversity as its guiding principle.

One of the most ambitious elements calls for building a 170-spot, two-story parking garage underground and replacing the footprint of the current lot with a lawn. The lot near the meeting of the Aspetuck and Saugatuck Rivers has been the site of frequent flooding, and Mozian said the company will need to establish how it will protect water quality and prevent the project from affecting upstream or downstream properties.

Bridgewater is the largest employer in Westport, a wealthy shoreline community of 25,000 people that is 50 miles outside New York City.

If approved, construction is expected to take several years. First Selectman Jim Marpe said the improvement project will require approval from several agencies, but Bridgewater has been diligent about meeting with nearby residents to sort out any concerns.

"Bridgewater is working very hard, I believe, to be a good neighbor to the people who live near them," Marpe said.