If March 19 sale doesn't result in buyer, city considering June attempt to recover debt
New London - The historic Lighthouse Inn, shuttered for the past four years and facing a possible city tax auction, could begin to come back to life this spring if an online auction March 19 results in a successful bid.
Susan Howard of U.S. Properties, a real estate agent who has been trying to market the 4.2-acre property at 6 Guthrie Place for two years, said she has received several serious offers in the $900,000 range for the parcel. But the Business Loan Center, which as mortgage holder acquired the property after the only bidder at a foreclosure auction backed out, had sought $1.3 million and didn't accept the offers, she said.
Howard said she expects at least two parties that had submitted offers in the past to be part of the auction. Both parties, she said, had the intention of bringing the Lighthouse Inn, which hosted countless weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays and other special events over the years, back to its former grandeur as one of the premier restaurant and lodging destinations in the region.
"I always felt like it would be somebody who knew Lighthouse Inn who would end up buying it," Howard said.
State Marshal Joe Heap said the city is preparing to conduct a tax auction of the Lighthouse Inn property in June if the current owners are not able to sell before then. He estimated overdue taxes and fees at about $600,000, including about $70,000 in personal property taxes.
Heap said taxes mounted over the past few years as the Business Loan Center went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
Opening bid during the auction, which is being conducted online by Los Angeles-based CB Richard Ellis, is $500,000, well below the $1.25 million that New Haven businessman Anthony D. Acri III offered for the property during an auction in April 2009. Acri later withdrew his offer after at least two break-ins at the inn led to significant damage and the loss of personal property.
"The inn was originally designed by renowned architect William R. Emerson to be the summer cottage residence of steel magnet Charles S. Guthrie in 1902," according to a description of the property on the auction website. "It features gorgeous views, lawns and landscaping designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, known for his design of Central Park."
Howard said the property's lodging, bar and restaurant facilities - 51 guest rooms, three buildings and 32,000 square feet of space - comes fully furnished.
"At $1 million, it was a steal," she said.
Ned Hammond, economic development coordinator for the city, said at least three local parties have taken a serious interest in the property, including one person who would have run it as a family business and another local developer who would have hired a management company to operate the inn.
"It's got that attraction for local people," Hammond said. "It's a beautiful spot. I don't think anyone wants to see it go down that long, dark road of nothingness."
The inn's last operators, Christopher Plummer of Lyme and Maureen Clark of Stonington, were convicted of fraud. Plummer was sentenced last year to more than four years in federal prison. Clark is to be sentenced today.