Bank makes only bid at auction of Norwich building

Buy Photo Dana Jensen/The Day Auction attorney Scott Camassar stands in the doorway of the Fairhaven Apartments building Saturday, March 9, 2013, after opening the building for people to look through the ground level of the building before being sold at auction later in the day. Access to the upper floors was not available on Saturday.

Norwich — The historic Fairhaven building on lower Broadway will remain vacant with an uncertain future after the bank holding the $1.3 million mortgage on the property placed the only bid Saturday at a foreclosure auction sale.

Banco Popular North America foreclosed on the 21-unit apartment building at 26-28 Broadway after the Boston-area partnership Fairhaven Apartments LLC defaulted on a $1.3 million mortgage. After court fees were applied, the total debt amounted to nearly $1.4 million.

In addition, the city filed tax foreclosure in December for the approximately $26,000 owed in back property taxes. That bill rose to $28,000 with interest and court fees, said city Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll, who attended the auction.

Attorney Keith Sturges of the Bridgeport firm Goldstein & Peck bid $39,999 to protect the bank's interest in the property.

The court-appointed committee of sale, attorney Scott D. Camassar, said he would file the bank's bid in New London Superior Court, which could lead to the bank taking the property through a strict foreclosure.

Sturges said he could not comment on the bank's plans for the building.

Lack of interest by developers did not surprise Camassar. He said only two parties inquired about the building in advance of Saturday's auction, and one backed out after learning of the $30,000 minimum bid price — 10 percent of the appraised value of $300,000. The second person asked if the bank was planning to post a bid.

Only City Historian Dale Plummer attended the open house prior to the auction. Plummer said he was curious about the fate of the historic building.

The building was constructed in 1891 as the Buckingham Hotel, "the last hotel to be built in downtown Norwich," according to Plummer's research in 1981 that placed the building in the downtown National Historic District.

Plummer said the 1890s were a boom decade for Norwich, with the new trolley system being installed helping to make Norwich a commercial and financial destination. The hotel was renovated and reopened as the Dell Hoff Hotel in 1897, when a restaurant was added to the first floor and a dining hall for guests to the second floor.

But its recent history has been checkered. The brick building has been vacant since July of 2009, when city officials condemned it for numerous building and safety violations, displacing about two dozen residents. Since then, city officials have responded to reports of vagrants in the building, and vandals and metal thieves have caused serious damage to the building, which had undergone a major renovation several years earlier.

Fairhaven Apartments LLC had purchased the previously condemned building in 2003 and undertook a $100,000 renovation. The building reopened with fanfare in 2006, but quickly fell into disrepair over the next three years, leading to the condemnation.

Camassar apologized that he could not truly show the building's condition during the open house Saturday. Only the two vacant street-level storefronts and a heavily vandalized rear boiler room were accessible. The interior staircase leading up to the 21 apartments on the four upper stories was blocked off and hidden. An elevator was not functioning. An outdoor concrete staircase at the side of the building led to a boarded up door.

Plummer held out hope Saturday that a developer could be found to tackle the expensive renovation project. The Fairhaven would qualify for federal historic restoration tax credits that could cover 20 percent of the renovation cost.

Once back property taxes are paid, it also would qualify for three downtown revitalization programs overseen by the Norwich Community Development Corp. that offer matching grants, loans and a lease rebate program to attract tenants.

City Director of Inspections James Troeger said Saturday that city inspectors will continue to check on the building to make sure no one has entered it and to make sure it remains secured.

c.bessette@theday.com

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