Published September 12. 2013 4:00AM
Taking possession of an old inn in poor repair is not a problem the city wanted, but since that is the reality the Finizio administration faces, its strategy to find a buyer for the Lighthouse Inn and get it back on the tax rolls makes sense.
After recent owners failed to make a profit running the inn, and in the process failed to pay bills and taxes (one is in prison for a fraudulent investment deal), the city in July put the grand building on the auction block to recoup back taxes. Unfortunately, the minimum $577,000 bid attracted no interest. The city took possession of the building this week.
A short distance from Long Island Sound, the 32,000-square-foot structure is a beautiful building with historic significance for the city. Originally designed as a private residence, the owner converted it to an inn in the late 1920s. Its restaurant and the many receptions held there long made it part of the city's life.
It has 51 guest rooms and was last open in 2008. Limited parking and the need for extensive renovations present major challenges.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said the city plans to secure and clean the building, cut back the overgrown landscaping, and make minimal repairs to reduce further damage from weather and vermin. He estimates the cost at $150,000. That seems a reasonable investment to prevent further deterioration to what is now, like it or, a city asset.
The mayor proposes then putting the property again up for bid, with a minimum price to recoup taxes and the city's investment, along with a tax abatement package to attract interest in the building.
Instead of putting together a tax abatement incentive package together before bidding, why not let bidders know the city is willing to offer incentives and then negotiate with interested buyers? Using that approach, the city could award the bid to the buyer offering the best deal in terms of purchasing price combined with incentives. It would be a mistake to offer greater tax breaks up front than prove necessary to reach a deal.
The right buyer could return the Lighthouse Inn to its former glory, providing an economic boost, eventually generating tax revenue, and preventing the inn from becoming a blight on the surrounding neighborhood.