Published May 28. 2014 4:00AM
In a state that strikes me these days as poorly managed, no longer the reliable old Connecticut of steady habits and solid government, the case of the abandoned Seaside buildings in Waterford strikes me as a good example of how badly things have gone wrong.
The buildings, the property of the state, make up a dramatic waterfront campus, the creation of one of the country's most celebrated architects, Cass Gilbert, who also designed the U.S. Supreme Court and New York's Woolworth Building, among other landmarks.
Built as a hospital for children with tuberculosis and later used more generally for children with special needs, the buildings were abandoned in 1996.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, they have been badly neglected by the state. Whether they can be saved is an open question that the Malloy administration, in its lack of transparency, refuses to shed light on.
The site itself, with a big sandy beach, rolling lawns and vistas up and down Long Island Sound, is spectacular, something to make developers drool.
But when one reputable developer surfaced recently, inquiring about buying, the state said, essentially, no, we are going to stick with our plan to sell it to someone else, a someone who has a history of not paying his state or federal taxes.
Indeed, the developer the Malloy administration is betting on to transform Seaside and put it on the tax rolls has such credit challenges that a court ordered him to start paying off an outstanding American Express balance at the rate of $35 a week.
The state's preferred developer, who at one time used the law firm of a former Democratic state chairman, seems to be no longer defending a foreclosure of his home, after his lawyer in that case claimed he wasn't being paid and quit.
The bank in the case says the favored Malloy developer has been all about stalling.
Malloy's deputy in charge of not getting Seaside on the tax rolls is Donald J. DeFronzo, a former mayor of New Britain and Democratic state senator whom Malloy appointed Department of Administrative Services commissioner in 2010.
DeFronzo has been presiding over the continuing neglect of these historic buildings for more than three years.
A different state agency has ruled that the buildings, which by town zoning must be preserved, might not be salvageable. But that finding was based on an engineering report submitted by the developer, who has said he wants to demolish.
The state has refused to release the engineering report.
DeFronzo in an email response earlier this month to a citizen complaint about the Seaside stalling, which was copied to a host of lawmakers, says "most of the buildings are clearly beyond salvage."
His opinion that the historic buildings should be demolished is alarming given that he is the person responsible for safeguarding them.
When The Day was allowed to tour them earlier this spring, DeFronzo's staff made a point of making visitors sign liability waivers and then not going inside the buildings with us for the tour.
This unnecessary theatrics was silly. Honestly? The people responsible for the buildings, which appear structurally sound, won't go inside at all, but would send in a newspaper tour? State employees don't go in any longer?
Talk about neglect.
The kids who routinely go in to scribble graffiti don't seem to be worried about being in harm's way.
DeFronzo said in his Seaside email that the "matter has spanned three gubernatorial administrations."
Really? The commissioner wants to blame former Gov. John Rowland for Seaside's demise? I'm sorry to say it wasn't Rowland clinging to an $8 million sales contract to sell a public treasure to someone who can't pay his credit card bills.
It's been more than a year since a Superior Court judge threw out an appeal to Seaside zoning. The developer has yet to submit any specific plans for the property, although it does appear he is going to drag the town through another long review of Seaside zoning.
Malloy's deputy for administrative services did admit in a recent op-ed article in The Day that "our patience is not limited" and suggested that a move to terminate the sales contract could come when that patience runs out.
I suspect that voters' patience with the commissioner, and the governor who appointed him, especially voters in Waterford, has already run out.
This is the opinion of David Collins