What’s the Deal with That Place?

As part of The Day's CuriousCT initiative, we've received quite a few questions about specific buildings in the area. Today, we're answering four readers' questions and plan on tackling more in the future. If you're wondering about something in your town, submit a question to www.theday.com/curiousct.

Q. What is happening with the Bulkeley House on Bank Street?

A. The Bulkeley House Saloon at 111 Bank St. was a thriving downtown restaurant not too long ago.

The simple answer as to why it’s been vacant for two years is that the operator did not pay his bills. Court records reveal a series of lawsuits, bankruptcy filings, unpaid taxes and a fight against foreclosure.

Albert Farrah is listed as the principal of the two companies that ran the business and controlled the property — Thames Restaurant Group LLC and Riverview Realty Associates LLC. Both filed for bankruptcy in 2017.

Prior to bankruptcy, Moreland Corp., which sold the restaurant business to Farrah in 2011, sued Thames Restaurant Group for allegedly not making its monthly payments as promised. Moreland was owned by former Bulkeley House owner Luciano Mase, who was a big part of the business boom in downtown but pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 2012 and was sentenced to a year in federal prison.

Luciano Mase’s daughter, Amy Mase, is listed in court records as the mortgage holder and filed foreclosure against Riverview Realty Associates for not paying the mortgage or property taxes. And while the case stalled with the bankruptcy filing, Mase is now listed as the receiver of the property.

There was a foreclosure judgment in favor of Mase in 2018, but the case is being appealed in appellate court.

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases, which appear to be close to disposition, helped to stave off other legal actions such as the lawsuit brought by former Bulkeley House food provider U.S. Foods for nonpayment. There remains a lien on the property by the city for unpaid real estate and personal property taxes totaling more than $43,000. The only reason it hasn’t gone to a tax sale is that the property is tied up in bankruptcy proceedings.

City economic development officials said the restaurant site, in the heart of the city’s entertainment district, still attracts interest from interest buyers. It has a 200-year-old main building, water views and an outdoor pavilion.

— Greg Smith

Q. Why does the center of the Town of Groton retail strip remain littered with empty lots, what would seem to be prime commercial property on Long Hill Road. (former Tim Hortons, Blimpie, Pizza Hut)?

A. While investors are interested in downtown Groton, challenges from getting state approvals, to a high price tag can delay developing vacant lots, real estate experts say.

Ian Hunt, commercial real estate broker with Colliers International, said the former Blimpie’s site at 671 Long Hill Road had been under contract with a developer representing a national tenant but faced challenges getting state approval to make a left turn out of the site.

“It’s a state DOT issue that we’re trying to get creative to find a solution for egress and ingress to the site,” he said.

The property is back on the market for $500,000, though the prospective developer is still engaged, he said.

Heather Gianacoplos, commercial real estate agent with Pequot Commercial, said the company gets inquiries about the former Tim Hortons site at 627 Long Hill Road, which features a one-story building with a drive-through and could house a business such as a bank or medical offices.

She said the site is in a great location and was, until recently, under contract. A usage restriction on the property and the price could play into why it hasn’t been leased or sold yet. The site is for sale for $999,000, or for lease at $75,000 annually.

“It’s on prime real estate so it has a prime price tag that goes with it,” Gianacoplos said.

With positive movement in the downtown area, including a barber shop, karate and physical therapy outlets opening up, she said she’s optimistic.

Paige Bronk, Groton’s economic and community development manager, said investors are looking for opportunities in downtown Groton. He pointed to success stories, including the redevelopment of the shopping center home to Aldi where people have multiple shopping opportunities and there are no vacancies.

Though momentum is building downtown, some small parcels remain in need of development, he said. When Groton Town staff attend retail conferences, they try to help commercial brokers by marketing available properties.

The town also is proposing a Tax Increment Financing district for part of the Route 1 area downtown. Tax Increment Financing is a “financing method to catalyze economic development,” according to a recent presentation at a Joint City Council and Town Council Committee of the Whole meeting.

“Over time it will have a significant impact in attracting external investments for that area,” Bronk said.

Mike Zerbini, commercial Realtor with Groton-based IMT Realty, LLC, said that while the vacant lots may stand out to the person casually driving down the road, Groton actually has a low vacancy rate — 2.7 percent — for commercial properties, aided by accessibility from the highways and the presence of Electric Boat, Pfizer, and the Naval Submarine Base. He based his analysis on the number of business properties that receive personal property tax bills compared to the number of properties listed for lease or sale on the commercial listing portal LoopNet.

He thinks sellers likely have decided that it’s more beneficial to keep the properties vacant, rather than lower the price.

“There will be a business sometime in the future that will pay that price,” he said.

— Kimberly Drelich

Q. Is anything going to be done about the old Tim Hortons building on Route 1 in Pawcatuck? It has been empty for a long time now.

A. Little is known about the future of the former Bess Eaton/Tim Hortons doughnut shop at 148 South Broad St. in Pawcatuck.

Town officials said they have had no communication with the owner and are not aware of any plans for its future, as the site begins to deteriorate.

Gary Joyal of Massachusetts, who is the owner of the Norwich marina and is listed as a principal in GBD Realty, the firm that owns the building, did not respond to an email asking about the status and plans for it. A message left at the address listed in town records for GBD Realty in Taunton, Mass., was not returned. GBD Realty bought the building for $550,000 from Tim Hortons of New England in 2004.

Tim Hortons ran a doughnut shop in the building from 2004, when it bought the Bess Eaton chain, to 2010. It was vacant for the next four years except for brief 10-day period when a pool and spa store was in operation. In 2014, a coffee shop opened in the building but closed a short time later.

— Joe Wojtas

Q. What are the plans for the abandoned drive-in movie theater off of Route 32 in Montville?

A. Montville officials say the former drive-in movie theater, remembered as a hotspot for youths and families during its heyday decades ago, remains for sale after multiple deals have fallen through over the years.

The long-vacant property, at 1080 Route 32, was once part of the chain of venues owned by E.M. Loew, president of E.M. Loew's Theaters Inc.

Loew died in 1984, and the property is now owned by the estate of Loew's wife, Melitta Loew, and Dorothy Wallman, of Peabody, Mass., who inherited the site through family.

"We would love to see it developed into something," Mayor Ron McDaniel said of the property, which is almost 25 acres and zoned as commercial. The parcel, which includes one small building, is appraised at almost $1.7 million.

Wallman said previous deals have failed to close due to buyers suffering financing issues, and she noted some offers, including from a solar developer, have come nowhere near the value of the property.

"I keep hoping it will be sold," she said, adding she tends to receive a new round of proposals every spring.

A message left with Realtor Calvin Utter of William Raveis was not immediately responded to.

— Benjamin Kail

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