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    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    Developer says he’ll bring an IHOP to New London ― if the city cuts his tax bill

    Developers hope to transform the former Shaking Crab restaurant at 305 N. Frontage Road in New London, seen here on Thursday, May 23, 2024, into an IHOP restaurant. (John Penney/The Day)
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    New London ― A local businessman said his plan to bring an IHOP restaurant to North Frontage Road hinges on the city cutting property taxes at the development site, a requirement officials said is neither fair nor feasible.

    Gulshan Soni, who operates or manages several New London properties on behalf of New London Hospitality LLC, owners of the Clarion Inn and Red Roof Inn, said he’s in negotiations to lease or purchase the 305 North Frontage Road property from the hospitality group.

    “We’ve got the bids in for the new IHOP furniture and signs, but first need the taxes to go down,” said Soni on Thursday, adding he’s working with New London Hospitality principal Deepak Verma to take over the former Shaking Crab building.

    Soni said IHOP granted him a license in February to operate restaurant franchises in the region. An IHOP spokesperson on Thursday confirmed an IHOP restaurant “will be opening in New London” in the third fiscal quarter, which covers the months of July, August and September. The company said Verma and Soni are listed as the restaurant owners.

    But Soni said he’s not prepared to move forward with any plans unless the city agrees to reduce taxes for the commercial property.

    “The taxes are too high here and not competitive,” he said.

    Soni said he reached out to several city officials this week, including Mayor Michael Passero, requesting an unspecified tax break.

    Passero said he’s unaware of any mechanism that would allow a municipality to simply reduce a business owner’s tax obligations. He said the City Council in some cases has agreed to tax break or incentive agreements, but usually for new developments.

    Passero said a recent property revaluation and subsequent tax rate decrease means New London Hospitality is already due to see its most recent $30,300 tax bill on the Frontage Road property drop to $25,000 on July 1.

    “It’d be great to have an IHOP move in, and we’ve worked very hard to make property taxes competitive,” Passero said. “But simply reducing one specific business’ taxes would be unfair to all those other taxpayers in New London.”

    City building and planning officials said Thursday no permits or paperwork has been filed with their offices related to the IHOP plan.

    The 6,800-square-foot building was once home to an Outback Steakhouse and, most recently, a “Restaurant Junction” food court that opened in 2021 and housed the Shaking Crab, which Soni managed for Verma’s company.

    Verma said he closed the crab shack several months ago, blaming high taxes for the restaurant’s failure. He said any potential deal to sell or lease the 7-acre property to Soni is contingent on a tax break, though he did not name a specific figure that would close the deal.

    Soni, who owns The Pizza Lady restaurant in Pawcatuck with his wife, Priya Kohli, said he has tentative plans to open “seven to 10” IHOP locations in southeastern Connecticut. He mentioned East Lyme and Groton – which for years was home to an IHOP on Route 12 before its closure– as possible new restaurant locations.

    “We have been looking at properties in those towns,” Soni said.

    j.penney@theday.com

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