Foreclosure on former Martin Luther King Center in Norwich nearly complete

Norwich — The tax foreclosure action against the defunct Martin Luther King Center at 21 Fairmount St. is nearly complete, but city officials don’t expect to own the large century-old house for long, if at all.

The city filed tax foreclosure action against the shuttered former West Side neighborhood youth center in October 2016, after the center had been closed for three years and had lost its tax-exempt status. Back taxes through September 2018 had totaled $42,224, according to attorney Aimee Wickless, who is handling the foreclosure action for the city.

Since no one from the defunct Martin Luther King Center board of directors came forward to be represented in the foreclosure, and the city could not confirm whether any party had received the notice of the pending action, New London Superior Court Judge Emmett Cosgrove ordered a legal notice be published once a week for two weeks in an effort to notify any representatives of the group.

The next court date is scheduled for Dec. 17, with a motion for strict foreclosure pending.

An appraisal of the property ordered by the city placed the value of the 2,875-square-foot building at $100,000. Appraiser Howard B. Russ of Riess Appraisal Co. LLC wrote that he was only able to do an exterior assessment of the building and proposed that the “highest and best use” would be to convert the building into a multifamily dwelling, despite the lack of off-street parking. It is located in a multifamily zone.

“The market has been relatively active for similar large buildings with mixed use or multi-family use,” Russ wrote. “There have been a reasonable number of transactions of this property type.”

Wickless said with the appraisal value set at $100,000, and the city’s back tax bill less than half that total, the court likely would order a tax foreclosure auction. With no other creditors listed after the city’s tax lien, in that scenario, any sale price above the amount owed to the city would go to the state for potential claim by creditors. If not, the money would revert to the state, she said.

If the city becomes the owner either by court order or through lack of interest in an auction, Mayor Peter Nystrom said he would suggest marketing it to local multi-family developers who already have been doing work in the city.

Although the building has been vacant for three years, city Blight Enforcement Officer Brittany Williams said the house remains secured. Some illegal dumping had been done in front of the house, and the brush in front had overgrown and was obstructing the sidewalk last summer. She contacted the city’s last known caretaker, former board member and longtime Martin Luther King Center champion M. Garfield Rucker.

She said Rucker quickly had the brush cut and the debris removed.

Rucker could not be reached for comment Friday. In December 2013, he used the last remaining money from grants to the center to pay the final utility bills before asking Norwich Public Utilities to turn off the utilities. At the time of the city’s foreclosure filing in 2016, Rucker said there were no board members remaining to respond to the foreclosure action.

Nystrom said it’s time to put the property back on the city tax rolls.

“The building that had a true mission and a purpose for kids is long gone,” Nystrom said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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