Is the New London Shipway apartment development foundering?
When the Tagliatela family abandoned its Harbour Towers condominium project on New London's Bank Street late last year, donating 21 of the unsold units to the University of New Haven, the remainder of the original 52, it looked to many observers that their commitment to a new 201-unit apartment development in the city, Shipway 221 at Fort Trumbull, might be wavering.
And then, on Wednesday, a profane email excoriating the Tagliatelas for listing the still-unbuilt Shipway development with a real estate broker, dropped on city officials.
As the dust was clearing Thursday, both Mayor Michael Passero and Linda Mariani, president of the Renaissance City Development Association, told me that the possible listing of the development for sale was news to them.
Passero told me that, as of midday Thursday, the Tagliatelas had not returned phone calls asking about the bombshell email. I left lots of messages for them, too, and didn't hear back.
Mariani said it was not clear what the Tagliatelas would be selling, since the RCDA still owns the land and the redevelopment agency would have to approve any new developer in new agreements.
Passero also said it is not clear now what their intentions are and whether they might be soliciting new partners or planning to get out of the deal altogether.
The email, sent to two Tagliatela brothers involved in the project, with copies to the mayor and RCDA officials, was from John Johnson, a New London businessman, the former treasurer of the National Coast Guard Museum, a board member of the Connecticut Port Authority and vice chairman of the New London Port Authority, who had been in talks with the Tagliatelas about becoming partners with them in the Shipway project.
"I am so (blank) steamed I can't see straight," Johnson wrote. "They double crossed me after I asked for a week for a (purchase and sale) agreement."
He said they "listed the property" with LA Drinkwater at the national real estate brokerage firm Marcus & Millichamp.
"You (blank) double crossed Johnson and I'll never forget it. YOU WANT AN ENEMY FOR LIFE, YOU GOT ONE NOW!" Johnson wrote in the email directed to Stephen Tagliatela, with a copy sent to his brother Louis.
I did reach real estate agent Laurie Drinkwater, who has a long history of owning investment property in Norwich, but she ended the call without answering any questions, saying she would call back after talking with the Tagliatelas. She never did.
When I caught up with Johnson, he sounded like he was still pretty angry at the Tagliatelas, who he said he has known for many years. He said he knows them in part through their common work in marine development. Stephen Tagliatela is the managing partner of the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa.
Johnson said they had been in negotiations about him joining the project as a partner, with a role in which he would solicit equity partners and financial institutions for financing. He said they had negotiated a "per door" figure for him joining in.
He said he invested thousands of his own money in the project and commissioned architectural drawings to make the buildings look more appropriate for New England.
Passero told me the Johnson email landed in some people's inboxes while he was in a meeting with RCDA officials Wednesday. It was quite a disruption, he said.
The mayor, who has identified the Shipway project as one of three proposed developments near the downtown he counts on as a redevelopment impetus, said there would be a lot of interest in that project whether the Tagliatelas are involved or not.
Like Mariani, he said he doesn't know what their intentions are yet. He said it may be possible, if they try to sell their interest in the development and planning and development approvals, for the RCDA to vet a new developer who might honor the terms already negotiated.
The land has an assessed value of $644,000, and RCDA has agreed to sell it to the Tagliatelas for $208,000 with the understanding they spend an estimated $500,000 to complete an environmental cleanup of the site.
"There are limits to be able to transfer, and it can't be done without RCDA approval," the mayor said about the Tagliatelas trying to sell their interests. "With the corporation's approval, someone could step into their shoes."
Whatever happens next, the city might want to make sure it doesn't end up with an angry developer suing and tying up the property in court for years, like the spurned developer's lawsuit that hovers now over much of the rest of Fort Trumbull, like a hungry buzzard.
This is the opinion of David Collins.