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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Seaside plan combines private lodge with public park, beach access

    A rendering of the state's plan to develop a state park lodge at the Seaside property in Waterford. (Rendering courtesy of Sazaki Associates)

    Waterford — A state-commissioned master plan for the 32-acre Seaside property includes a 100-room, privately-run state park lodge surrounded by a public park and beach access.

    Officials from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Department of Administrative Services presented a master plan Wednesday that consultants have developed in the almost two years since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that Seaside would be turned into a state park.

    According to the plan, the state would develop a public-private partnership that would mimic the management structure of state park lodges like the inn at Bear Mountain State Park in New York or the hotels and lodges in the National Parks system across the country.

    State officials hired PKF Consulting USA last year to study the economic viability of such a property.

    PFK's report found that the local market could sustain a private, 100-room hotel at Seaside with an occupancy of about 60 percent at a daily rate of about $200, assuming it opened in 2020.

    The plan for a lodge would keep the property's four biggest buildings, the site of the former tuberculosis hospital designed by the renowned architect Cass Gilbert in the early 1930s, intact.

    Many of the buildings are run-down but can still be restored, DEEP Deputy Commissioner Susan K. Whalen said in an interview before Wednesday's public presentation.

    "That was the pivot point for us to find out, if they're salvageable, what are the potential uses?" she said.

    Consulting firm Sasaki Associates Inc. considered several ideas proposed by members of the public — including an artists colony and housing for disabled veterans — and proposed that the buildings would be best used for a hotel.

    "We are in the lodging business," Whalen said, citing campsites and cabins the state maintains across the state. "We're definitely trying to provide a broader array of lodging opportunities."

    Under the master plan presented Wednesday, the state would keep ownership of the property, and a developer would be responsible for rehabilitating the buildings, which are now closed to the public.

    The state would maintain the surrounding land as a state park, leaving the sandy beach and trails around the Seaside building open to the public.

    It would build a fishing pier, trails and a kayak launch that would be open to members of the public and guests at the lodge.

    People would be allowed to swim from the beach, Whalen said.

    The plan for the lodge is similar to the plan that developer Mark Steiner had envisioned when he proposed buying the property and building an inn, restaurant and residences at Seaside.

    Steiner lost the deal to buy the property from the state when Malloy announced the plan to keep it as a state park in 2014. Steiner filed a claim last year seeking permission to sue the state for breach of contract.

    Edward Lamoureux, a Waterford resident who called the 2014 state park decision “historic,” and a “victory day,” said Wednesday that the prospect of a privately-run lodge in the park strayed from the idea of a public space.

    "It's turned into a commercial development," he said at Wednesday's presentation.

    Lamoureux said he would rather see the former site of a tuberculosis treatment center be used as a medical facility for wounded veterans.

    "It was a hospital for healing, it could be a hospital for healing again," he said.

    But Robert Tombari, who said he grew up in one of the Seaside buildings while his father worked at the facility between 1946 until 1962, was more optimistic about the plan.

    Tombari said he understands some neighbors' concern about traffic and public access, but said he hasn't heard a better alternative, and seeing the empty buildings on the property now is "discouraging."

    "The alternative is to demolish it and just erase that history," he said.

    According to the Sasaki Associates master plan, the state would retain ownership of the land and could lease it to a private company, eventually bringing in some revenue to the state.

    Guests at the lodge would be drawn to the area to visit nearby Mystic and New London, weddings at Harkness Memorial State Park or students at nearby colleges, she said.

    "The views of the Long Island Sound from those buildings are breathtaking, they are gorgeous," she said.


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