Published May 28. 2014 3:17PM Updated May 28. 2014 11:57PM
New London sought minimum of $500,000; businessman had previously withdrawn bigger proposal
New London — A New Haven businessman who had offered $1.25 million for the Lighthouse Inn before backing out of the deal four years ago emerged as the only bidder Wednesday for the historic property, offering $100,000 — well below the minimum that had been set by the city.
Still, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said he is inclined to recommend the City Council accept the bid, assuming there were no tax abatements or other changes to the bid stipulations requested. He said it is important to get the Lighthouse Inn back on the tax rolls and ensure that the property is restored to its original grandeur.
“This is a building that cannot be replaced,” Finizio said. “I think it will mean a lot to the city to see this restored and reopened.”
Anthony D. Acri III’s offer was far short of the $500,000 minimum bid the city had set for the Guthrie Place property and didn’t come close to its assessed value of more than $3 million.
Acri, reached by phone Wednesday evening, said he would reserve commenting on his plans for the inn until he hears back from the city on whether the bid has been accepted. He also would not say whether he would be seeking tax abatements.
“I don’t want to comment until I hear back ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’” he said.
Finizio said Acri had been prequalified for the bid and checked out as a credible developer. He said estimates he has heard indicate the property’s historic restoration — a requirement for anyone bidding on the Lighthouse Inn — will cost somewhere between $1.8 million and $2.5 million.
The city’s other requirement was that the Lighthouse Inn remain open to the public, Finizio said.
“We are grateful there was a credible bidder for the property,” Finizio said after opening the bid at the city planning offices. “Our ultimate goal is preserving this building and getting it back open to the public again.”
Acri had bid for the Lighthouse Inn at auction in 2010 but withdrew his $1.25 million offer a few months later after a series of break-ins at the property resulted in significant damages and the loss of personal property. Had the original offer gone through, Acri would have been required to pay back taxes that at the time totaled more than $200,000 as well as water and sewer charges of more than $75,000.
The city took title to the property — which encompasses 4.2 acres and includes 51 guest rooms — last June after a tax sale failed to elicit a single bid. About $577,000 in taxes were owed on the property, an amount that was forgiven as soon as the city acquired it.
The city also took possession of interior furnishings after a tax sale on personal property didn’t result in a bid. The furnishings — including a few antiques — will go to Acri, assuming the City Council approves the sale.
The city has estimated spending more than $67,000 to prepare the inn for sale. But Finizio said getting the Lighthouse Inn back in circulation and generating income for the city is far better than letting it flounder for years, as happened after New London took possession of the Capitol Theater more than three decades ago.
Finizio recalled after the city took over ownership of the Lighthouse Inn that he let himself into the long-vacant building and said out loud: “You will not be the next Capitol Theater.”
The 1902 mansion built by steel magnate Charles S. Guthrie is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It closed in 2008 amid controversy over huge debts and unpaid wages, and the inn’s final operators — Maureen Clark and Christopher Plummer — were each jailed on unrelated fraud charges.
The inn over the years was a special spot for family gatherings and weddings. Later on, it was converted into a resort with time-share condominiums whose owners suffered losses when the inn suddenly closed.
The property’s title was returned to the mortgage company after a foreclosure sale. The mortgage firm, Business Loan Center, decided to walk away from the property after reportedly turning down several substantial offers, allowing the city to auction the Lighthouse Inn at a tax sale.