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Only two check out rooms at Lighthouse Inn auction

By Izaskun E. Larrañeta

Publication: theday.com

Published October 18. 2013 4:00PM   Updated October 19. 2013 12:16AM

New London — It's as if time has stood still at the Lighthouse Inn.

The menu at the hostess station in the now-shuttered inn once reminded the server that prices for brunch had changed — brunch for adults was now $29.95 and $15.95 for children. The soup of the day: lobster bisque.

Enter the main dining room and some tables still have linens on them with wine and water glasses in their proper places. A fake Christmas tree stands in the center of the room.

But the historic inn hasn't been open to the public since 2008 and, on this breezy fall day, those tables, linens, glasses and just about every piece of furniture and equipment was on the auction block. City officials, through their auction, were hoping to reclaim $125,388.51 in lost personal property taxes.

The city earlier this year took title to the historic property after a real estate tax auction failed to elicit a single bid at the minimum price of about $577,000.

At 11 a.m. Friday the doors to the inn opened to just two potential investors who had each brought a check for 25 percent of the minimum auction price — more than $30,000. They were able to see the rooms where some beds appeared to be freshly turned.

But there were a few things that investors couldn't ignore — the smell of mold, the outdated kitchen and furniture, the water damage and the layers upon layers of dust that cover almost everything.

One hour later, State Marshal Joe Heap opened the auction. There were no bidders. Tax Collector Maureen Farrell then made a bid on behalf of the city, thus making it the official owner of the once-thriving inn.

The previous owners, the Business Loan Center LLC, had defaulted on the taxes.

One potential bidder, Jim Noonan, a New London businessman, said Friday he had a small interest in the property. "It's a beautiful inn and it's going to be a big project to take on," he said.

Noonan, however, didn't rule out the possibility of investing in the property in the future.

Heap said it was probably advantageous to the city that no one bought the property since that will enable the city to now sell the inn with all of its contents. Prior to the auction, he said, he didn't believe the city would receive its asking price because the market is saturated with used hotel and restaurant items for sale.

The city legally had to conduct two separate auctions, for personal and real property, before taking complete possession of the inn and its contents, Heap said.

The 1902 Lighthouse Inn property on Guthrie Place, which had been a cherished dining spot and drinking establishment for generations and had been transformed into a resort in recent years, includes three buildings encompassing about 32,000 square feet of space and 51 guest rooms.

The city plans to make repairs to the inn, make a proposal to the new City Council in November to pass some sort of tax-abatement package, then host a general auction in which the highest bidder would become the new owner.

i.larraneta@theday.com

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