Mohegans submit winning bid for St. Bernard School property
Hartford ― The Mohegan Tribe submitted a winning bid Friday for the 113-acre St. Bernard School property in the Uncasville section of Montville, increasing its $6.5 million qualifying bid by $50,000 during an auction conducted at the law offices of Robinson & Cole, the firm representing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich in the diocese’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.
As the successful bidder, the tribe will lease the property to Saint Bernard School of Montville Inc., the parochial school’s corporate owner, for up to 20 years, ensuring it can continue operating at the Norwich-New London Turnpike location it’s occupied for decades. Currently, the school has about 400 students in grades 6 through 12.
James Gessner Jr., the Mohegan chairman, who participated in the auction, issued a brief statement afterwards, acknowledging that the auction outcome is subject to the approval of a U.S. bankruptcy judge.
“For now, what we can say is that our bid today was centered on ensuring uninterrupted educational opportunities for Saint Bernard students while also preserving land that has extremely important cultural and historical significance to the Mohegan Tribe,” he said. “The plan we have put forward will safeguard both the future of the school and our ancestral homelands, and we are hopeful and optimistic about moving forward toward those goals.”
In an earlier statement, the tribe, which owns and operates Mohegan Sun, emphasized it “will not develop the surrounding land for commercial or gaming purposes ...”
St. Bernard alumni Diederick van der Velde and Bill Buscetto, who had submitted the only other qualifying offer prior to Friday’s auction, made no attempt to outbid the tribe, which only this week confirmed it was the entity that had begun pursuing the St. Bernard School property late last year.
That confirmation defused the tribe’s competition.
“We assumed for months that it was them, but we didn’t know. Nobody knew for sure,” Buscetto said after the auction. “The last thing we wanted to do was step aside and risk that it was somebody else. … Once we found out it was the tribe, we were comfortable with it.”
Buscetto, of Old Lyme, who attended the auction along with attorney Gordon Videll, said he and van der Velde, a Naples, Fla., resident who did not attend the auction, considered the tribe “a fantastic partner” for the school. He said van der Velde, an owner of assisted living facilities in the Midwest, was willing to bid as much as $20 million, if necessary, to secure St. Bernard School’s future.
“We were prepared to outbid anybody that didn’t have the best interests of the school at heart,” Buscetto said.
As a condition of the sale procedure, the tribe and van der Velde and Buscetto had submitted $650,000 deposits along with their $6.5 million qualifying bids. Friday’s bidding would have proceeded in increments of at least $50,000.
A group of St. Bernard alumni that had expressed an interest in the property and had begun raising funds for the purchase, ultimately decided against submitting a qualifying bid. New London attorney Jeffrey Londregan, a member of the group, Saints Country, attended the auction.
“Our intention all along was to make sure the school had a future,” Londregan said later by phone. “Once the bankruptcy court made it a requirement that any successful bidder would have to enter into a lease with the school for $1 a year, we knew the school had a future.”
“We would have been happy to support either of the two other bidders,” he said.
Londregan said the group would investigate donating the money it has raised to St. Bernard School’s endowment.
The Diocese of Norwich has sought to sell the St. Bernard School property and other assets to fund settlements the diocese must pay to more than 140 victims of sexual abuse by priest and other diocesan employees.
Facing lawsuits filed by men who say they were sexually assaulted by Christian Brothers, staff and students at the diocese-run Mount Saint John Academy in Deep River from 1990 to 2002, the diocese filed for bankruptcy protection in 2021. Subsequently, more than 80 additional alleged victims have filed claims.
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