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Tax abatements may be in store for Lighthouse Inn

New London's Lighthouse Inn has been through enough tumult over the years - from major fires, foreclosures, tax auctions, a fraud scheme and mysterious break-ins - to make good grist for a country western song.

Actually, the last act for the mansion dowager that presides over the city's south end could be a movie plot.

According to prosecutors, the people who most recently ran the inn invested money in it from a flimflam involving a phony resort on the Mississippi coast they used to bilk investors out of money.

Now, after no one bid the required $577,731 at a tax auction last month, the city owns the Lighthouse Inn, which was built in 1906 as Meadow Court, the summer mansion of steel baron Charles Guthrie.

Just three years ago, a New Haven businessman bid $1.25 million for the inn at auction, in a court-brokered deal that eventually soured.

So what else might entice someone now to buy and reopen the 51-room inn?

How about tax abatements?

That's apparently what's soon going to be on the table and has been part of discussions between the mayor and city councilors, who would ultimately have to approve any plans to put the property back up for auction with promises of tax abatements.

Mayor Finizio told me last week he has had conversations with councilors who are in agreement on the broad outline of a tax abatement plan. The mayor said he has also spoken to more than one developer interested in the property and the potential buyers have signaled that abatements would motivate them to make an offer.

In general, the mayor said, an abatement plan being discussed would have the new buyer pay no taxes for five years and 50 percent of the taxes for five years after that.

The minimum bid for the last auction included late penalties, but the actual amount the city has on the books for unpaid taxes is more like $350,000, the mayor said.

Given the small investment the city needs to make in a roof repair and security for the property, the mayor said, the minimum bid at the next auction could be $500,000.

Meanwhile, the city is trying to secure title to the property and get the most recent owners, the mortgage holder, to waive a 6-month waiting period that gives them a chance to recover the property after a tax sale. The city could also seek a waiver of the waiting period in court, the mayor said.

The timing is important, the mayor said, because the building is largely intact and in good condition, but could fall into disrepair quickly.

Indeed, from the outside, it looks like you could almost mow the lawn and put out a "vacancy" sign.

I couldn't help but think, chatting with the city-paid security guard sitting on a Harley in front of the inn last week, that this is the kind of scenario city residents had in mind when they agreed to change to a more proactive mayoral form of government.

In the old days, the inn would have languished while the city dithered.

Maybe, at least in this instance, the old days are long gone.

This is the opinion of David Collins


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