Restoration Work Begins On New London Lighthouse

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The restoration of the New London Harbor Light will begin this weekend, after a year-long fundraising campaign raised $150,000.

New London Harbor Light will undergo exterior renovations. Photo Credit: handout

New London Harbor Light will undergo exterior renovations. Photo Credit: handout

The exterior of the 89-foot brownstone and brick lighthouse, built in 1801, will be cleaned, re-pointed and repainted over the next six to eight weeks, according to the lighthouse’s owner, the New London Maritime Society.

The lighthouse will be closed to visitors while the work is completed.

See a photo gallery of Connecticut lighthouses.

The society, which has owned and managed the lighthouse since 2010, is now trying to raise an additional $38,000 for further repairs, including the construction of a masonry walkway on the ledge surrounding the lighthouse and replastering the lookout landing inside the lighthouse.

The lookout landing has some of the most severe cracks in the entire lighthouse.

The New London Harbor Light — the oldest and tallest lighthouse on Long Island Sound — was featured on a forever stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

Read about two Connecticut lighthouses that are being offered this summer by the federal government.




State-Sponsored Event Targets Homeowners Struggling With Mortgages

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The seventh in a series of state-sponsored events for homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages will be held Friday at the Trumbull Marriott.

The event, which gives borrowers the opportunity to meet face-to-face with banks and loan servicers, will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The goal of the event is to help borrowers explore options for loan modifications, foreclosure prevention or other alternatives.

Among the loan servicers that are sending representatives are: Bank of America, CitiMortgage, Fannie Mae, Green Tree Servicing, HSBC National Bank USA, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Nationstar Mortgage, Ocwen Loan Servicing, People’s United Bank, U.S. Bank Home Mortgage, Webster Bank and Wells Fargo Bank.

In addition, the event will include HUD-approved housing counselors, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, pro bono attorneys and court foreclosure mediators.

Those who attend are encouraged to bring as much of the required paperwork as possible, key to getting answers quickly. For more information about what paperwork is needed or the event itself, visit or call the state banking department at 860-240-8170 or toll-free at 1-877-472-8313.

CT New Home Construction Shows No Gain in April

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New home construction was flat in April, but the activity was an improvement from both a weak February and March, a new report today shows.

Permits issued for single-family houses, condominiums and apartment units totaled 336 in April, just shy of the 337 for the same month a year ago, according to the monthly report from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

The report is based on monthly data collected by the U.S. Census from 128 towns and cities in Connecticut. Once a year, an annual count of all municipalities in the state is tallied.

New home construction dropped in both February (down 27 percent) and March (down 17 percent). But residential construction is still up by 15.3 percent for the first four months of year, compared with the same period in 2013, thanks largely to an unusually strong January. In January, permits more than doubled, jumping to 533.


Asking Price Cut On Hepburn’s ‘Paradise’ In Old Saybrook

by Categorized: Islands For Sale, Katharine Hepburn House Date:

It appears even paradise has limits when it comes to asking price.

Katharine Hepburn's former home in the borough of Fenwick. Courant File Photo/Richard Messina

Katharine Hepburn’s former home in the borough of Fenwick. Courant File Photo/Richard Messina

Katharine Hepburn’s storied, seaside home in Old Saybrook — which the Oscar-winning actress once described as “paradise” — is back on the market at a reduced asking price of  $14.8 million.

The price is for Hepburn’s home and a third of the 3.5-acre estate purchased by owner Frank J. Sciame and his wife Barbara for $6 million in 2004, a year after the actress’ death.

The Sciames subdivided the estate into three lots and pursued an extensive top-to-bottom renovation of Hepburn’s house. The renovations included raising the entire house 5-1/2 feet to guard against flooding.



Most recently, the entire, 3-lot estate had been on the market for $30 million. But Sciame had pulled the shoreline property off the market last year, after two years and no offers to match the asking price.

Sciame told me today the lot with Hepburn’s 8,500-square-foot house was now “priced to sell.” Even though marketing in recent years had been focused on the entire property, the main house was available for $18 million.

“After 10 years, it’s time to move on,” Sciame, a Manhattan-based developer, said. “We always bought it as an investment property, and we decided the best return on investment would be selling as three lots.”

See a gallery of photos from the Hepburn estate.

The Sciames originally had planned to sell the renovated estate as soon as the work was done, but they kept it as a summer house for several years because it became a family favorite.

Sciame is nearing completion on a 3,000-square-foot beach house on the lot to the east of the main house. The Sciames intend to keep that house, at least for now, and they are pursuing approvals to build on the third lot.

A view showing the new beach house under construction to the east of the Hepburn house. Photo Courtesy of Sciame Construction, LLC.

A view showing the new beach house under construction to the east of the Hepburn house. Photo Courtesy of Sciame Construction, LLC.

Sciame said he believes the three lots — at one time marketed as having potential for a “family compound” — will eventually fetch the $30 million he had been asking, or even more.

The sale of the property has run into a slow market for expensive homes that followed the most recent recession. Recently, however, sales have picked up in exclusive markets in Fairfield County, most notably Greenwich.

The Hepburn House came on the market Friday, according to Colette Harron, a real estate agent at Sotheby’s International Realty in Essex.

“I’ve already had some calls from Los Angeles,” said Harron, who has the listing.






Parking Garage Could Figure In Future Expansion of Hartford’s XL Center

by Categorized: Downtown Hartford, XL Center Date:

The sale of the city-owned parking garage on Church Street downtown Hartford would fill a gaping hole in the Hartford municipal budget, but it would do something else, too: foster planning for a potential, future expansion of the XL Center.

The Capital Region Development Authority plans to purchase the Church Street garage from the city.  Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/

The Capital Region Development Authority plans to purchase from the city the Church Street garage, at left, across from the XL Center. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/

“The city’s preference is to keep [the XL Center] in its current location,” Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, told me. “If we can reboot the existing building, we are going to need some elbow room. And we can only go north.”

CRDA, which oversees the operations of the XL Center, would purchase the 1,300-space garage across Church Street for an estimated $14 million, pending an appraisal and other approvals.

The potential expansion is one alternative for dealing with the aging arena beyond the current, $35 million in renovations now underway. The current renovations are intended to make the arena viable for another decade.

There also have been discussions about eventually building a new arena, though that could cost $400 million-plus. That option could also move the arena out of the heart of downtown Hartford.

If the CRDA purchases the garage, its operations would be merged with the XL, ultimately bringing more revenue to the XL’s bottom line, Freimuth said.

(The garage now in the Hartford 21 complex, often used by patrons at XL Center events, is owned by Northland Investment Corp.)

Currently, the garage brings in about $2 million a year, with expenses running between $800,000 and $1 million. The garage, constructed in 1954, also is in need of repairs and upgrades, Freimuth said.

In the next few years, parking at garage could be used in promotions to boost event attendance  at the XL Center. Parking, for instance, could be included in the price of the ticket, Freimuth said.

The garage purchase would be paid for by state bonding. In the last session of the General Assembly, $30 million was budgeted for CRDA projects. If an expansion of the XL across Church Street does not come to pass, the garage could eventually be sold back to the city, Freimuth said.

In acquiring the garage, the CRDA would honor existing leases in the parking garage, including  spaces reserved for the nearby Hilton.

While the Church Street parking garage deal is analyzed, the CRDA also is beginning to focus on the long-term options for the XL Center. In the next few weeks, the CRDA will seek a consultant to determine what the “next-generation” of arena will be like and whether the existing XL Center could meet those requirements.

The cost for such a transformation compared with constructing a new arena also will be part of the analysis, Freimuth said.

Romare Bearden Murals At Hartford’s XL Center Worth Millions

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The abstract murals at the Hartford’s XL Center have gone largely under appreciated — even unnoticed — for years, but now they will be catching a lot more attention: They are worth millions of dollars.

The Bearden murals at Hartford's XL Center were commissioned by the city in 1980. Photo by Brad Horrigan/

The Bearden murals at Hartford’s XL Center were commissioned by the city in 1980. Photo by Brad Horrigan/

Two murals by Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden have been valued at $4.2 million by a New York appraiser. The appraiser was hired by the city in anticipation of relocating the murals as part of the upcoming renovations at the XL Center arena.

“We’re blown away,”  said Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, which oversees operations at the XL. “We’re absolutely blown away.”

Kristina Newman-Scott, director of marketing events and the cultural affairs division of the city, said her background in in the arts made her familiar with Bearden. But even she was surprised at the value assigned to the works.

“These are so large,” Newman-Scott said. “I thought we were going to be around $2.5 or $3 million, but this is much more than we thought.”

The works, intended as public art, were commissioned in 1980 for what was then known as the Hartford Civic Center. The murals — the biggest being 16 feet by 10 feet — are now hung in the concourse on the northwest corner, above entrance doors to the arena.

The appraisal was sought after it became clear the murals wouldn’t be used as part of a $35 million renovation to the aging arena. The appraisal was sought to make sure the works were properly insured, as they were moved and displayed in a new location.

The Bearden works weren’t insured beyond property-casualty coverage that covers equipment in the XL Center. Earlier this spring, when it appeared the works could be valuable, separate coverage for $1 million was secured, based on discussions with a local art dealer.

Coverage through a state policy that insures works of art will be increased again based on the appraisal, Freimuth said.

The appraisal, by Michael R. Chisolm, pegged the arts-themed “Untitled” at $2 million and “Olympics” with a sports theme, at $2.2 million.

The value of Bearden’s work has been rising since the artist’s death in 1988 and major exhibitions of his work in 2004 and 2008.

The Hartford Public Library has expressed interest in displaying the works, but no final decision has been made. A decision must be reached soon, ideally by the end of the month. Preparations for renovations need to get underway next month, with work beginning in earnest in July.

“The library is very interested in both the murals,” Matthew Poland, the library’s chief executive officer, said in an email. “Bearden is an important American artist and this public art should be displayed in a place that is accessible and free.”

He added: “HPL has the space to show them to thousands of people every day who will be inspired by their sheer size, color and subject of these magnificent works of art. I believe the Bearden murals will be a source of inspiration for a budding artist, a poet, and those among us who dream big dreams.”

Bill Katz, owner of Jubilee Fine Arts in Hartford, which specializes in African-American and Latin American art, has been pushing since the late 2000s for the Bearden murals to be displayed in a more public venue — and not one that required the price of a ticket.

“I am certainly pleased that the works have been appraised for this amount — over $2,000,000 per mural/collage,” Katz told me in an email Tuesday. ” A belated endorsement by the marketplace for the historic value of this artist. If my memory serves me, one of Bearden’s last gallery exhibits in 1987/88 in Boston yielded very few if any sales.”


Murphy Urges Aid For Homeowners With ‘Underwater’ Mortgages

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U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., renewed his push for homeowner mortgage relief this week, after a study showed that Hartford topped a list of cities troubled with properties worth less than what is owed on their mortgages.

“While the overall health of the economy and the housing market has improved significantly since the peak of the recession, the economic prospects for thousands of Connecticut families and homeowners are still bleak,” Murphy wrote in a letter this week to leaders of the Senate’s finance and banking committees.



Murphy is urging the committees to take steps to aid homeowners struggling with underwater mortgages, including the use of mortgage principal reductions.

Murphy said he was disturbed by a study last week that showed the city of Hartford as having 56 percent of its home mortgages underwater, at the head of a list of cities with populations of 100,000 or more. Bridgeport came in at 42 percent and New Haven, at 29 percent.

Bridgeport also was in the list’s top 10 in the study by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California at Berkeley.

The study used the list to demonstrate that while there has been improvement in the housing market nationally, many areas are still struggling.

“Hartford’s position on the list was stunning,” Murphy said. “But this a problem all across the country.”

First, Murphy said, lawmakers should institute a “robust” program for principal reduction as part of housing reforms aimed at the taxpayer bailed-out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Fannie and Freddie are considered key to the housing recovery because they secure investors to buy bundles of mortgages, keeping funds for mortgages flowing. Principal reduction should be another tool for helping the housing market to recover, Murphy said.

Murphy told me today there is some hesitancy to push principal reductions because it could encourage homeowners to borrow more than they can afford to repay. Another concern is that banks might be less willing to make home loans, he said.

But Murphy said the reductions wouldn’t have to continue for an indefinite period of time, and they could be targeted at loans made only during a certain time period.

Second, Murphy said, an exemption should be extended for people who sell their homes for less than is owed on a mortgage, such as in a short sale.for borrowers who receive a principal reduction or sell their home in a short sale. (A short sale occurs when a lender agrees to a sale even though the price is less than is what is owed on the mortgage.) [Updated on 5/16/2014 at 7:54 a.m.]

Under federal tax law, the difference is considered income — sometimes referred to as “phantom income” — and is subject to income tax. An exemption for struggling homeowners, first enacted in 2007 as the nation’s housing market plunged into recession, expired at the end of last year.

Murphy said he supports an extension, which would probably run through the end of 2014 2015. [Updated on 5/16/2014 at 7:55 a.m.]




Historic Salisbury Inn Purchased for $2.9 Million

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The White Hart Inn in Salisbury will reopen after more than three years. Photo by Rich Messina/

The White Hart Inn in Salisbury will reopen after more than three years. Photo by Rich Messina/

Salisbury’s historic White Hart Inn, a gathering spot for local residents and visitors before it closed in 2010, has been sold for $2.9 million to an investor group that hopes to reopen the landmark in August.

The inn, which dates to the 1860s, was purchased by an investor group with ties to Litchfield County. The group is led by Thomas Conley Rollins Jr., a New York investment banker who has a home in nearby Sharon.

“The White Hart has been an important part of the Salisbury community for over 200 years and for the past three and a half years it has been missing,” Rollins said in an email. “A group came together with a shared interest in making the White Hart a vital part of the community once again.”

One member of the group is Annie Wayte, a chef who opened Nicole’s in London and later brought the name to New York City, said Pat Best, co-owner of Best & Cavallaro in Salisbury, which had the listing.

Wayte will supervise the inn’s reopening and the dining menu for the White Hart’s restaurant, Best said. The purchase closed May 9, she said.

“It is going to be what it always was: a traditional country inn,” Best said. “They are going to bring it back to what is was: the center of town.”

The inn, opened in 1867, takes its name from a tavern in Salisbury, England. In the 1940s, Ford family heir Edsel Ford bought the inn in the 1940s when he couldn’t find a place to stay while visiting his son during parents’ weekend at the Hotchkiss School, also in Salisbury.

In the 1960s, the family that owned the White Hart added new guest rooms and other features.

The inn’s history also has hit some bumps in recent years: it fell into foreclosure into the late 1980s and was sold in an auction.

The most recent owner, Innac Corp., purchased the inn for $1.3 million in 1998. One of the members was Scott L. Bok, a New York investment banker who also owned a home in town.

In 2010, the inn underwent a $5 million renovation, gutting guest rooms, creating 15 luxury suites with refurbished baths and most with living rooms.

Some locals grumbled that the renovations transformed the inn into a place that was too upscale. The inn was reopened after the renovations but abruptly closed after six months and was quickly put up for sale.

The original asking price of $5 million was whittled down several times, finally reaching $3.9 million, Best said.

Best said the $2.9 million price reflects about $2.1 million for the property and the remainder for furnishings.

The closing left of the inn, on Salisbury’s town green, left a hole in what had been a community gathering spot not only for lodging but community celebrations. It was the place, Best said, where Santa made an appearance at the holidays and where there was the chili contest in the fall.

“We’re just thrilled it is re-opening,” Best said. “It’s been a long three-and-a-half years.”



Hartford’s Gold Street Won’t Change For At Least A Year

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The Gold Street project in downtown Hartford — a component of the iQuilt plan — is being pushed back a year by the city, after the street relocation project ran into opposition from neighbors.

The most recent plans call for the straightening of Gold Street, which runs west from Main Street to Bushnell Park. The shift is intended to create a continuous green space from Main to the park along the north side of the relocated street, a linear park that would link the Stone Field Sculpture to Bushnell Park.

The current path of Gold Street.

The current proposed relocation of Gold Street (BETA Engineering).

The proposed shift of Gold Street.

How the proposal could be modified. (BETA Engineering).

But owners in the Bushnell Tower condominiums argued that moving the street  would bring it too close to their building. On the other side of the street, the First Church of Christ complains its church house would become isolated with a green space separating it from the relocated street.

See my story about why property owners are upset about Gold Street project.

Work on Gold Street was scheduled to begin this spring, but will be pushed back until spring, 2015.

Hartford's Gold Street, looking east to Main Street from Bushnell Park. Photo by Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant

Hartford’s Gold Street, looking east to Main Street from Bushnell Park. (Brad Horrigan / Hartford Courant)

Since opposition bubbled over last month, three options now have emerged: proceed with the current vision for straightening Gold Street; modify the relocation so it doesn’t swing as close to the condo tower; or leave the street where it is, possibly narrowing it.

The modification now envisioned pushes the straightening away from the condo tower by a little over seven feet.

Thomas E. Deller, the city’s development director, told me the options will be used to foster further discussions with the church, the condo residents and other property owners. A decision must be reached by a deadline of Dec. 1, he said.

“If we have to redesign anything, we will need time to do it,” Deller said.

Deller said any relocation of the street also must be approved by the city council because it would swing beyond an established right-of-way, even though the reconstruction would be on city-owned property.

The IQuilt plan, adopted by the city council four years ago, aims at making the downtown area more walkable and inviting to visitors. Supporters say the relocation of Gold Street is crucial to the 1-mile GreenWalk that is the centerpiece of iQuilt. The greenwalk would link the state Capitol to the riverfront.

Not everyone opposes the relocation of Gold Street. A May 1 letter to the city from seven property owners in and around nearby Lewis Street  supports the relocation of Gold Street as now envisioned because it is crucial to the overall iQuilt plan.

The letter states: “As the city embarks on implementing the iQuilt plan, it is critical that the plan be implemented as designed and that the leadership of the city not allow late-to-the-game skeptics to compromise a critical component of a well thought out plan which will enhance the health, quality-of-life, vibrancy, and the economy of the city of Hartford for the future.”

Paul Spinella, Voden, LLC, 15 Lewis Street Associates, Talcott Realty Investors, Lewis Street Partners, LLC, Dr. Karlos Boghosian and David K. Elwell IRA Equity Trust signed the letter.

Opponents of the relocation said the change would worsen already lengthy back-ups on Lewis Street during rush hour.

The city is under time constraints to complete the Gold Street project because it is part of the larger, $25 million “Intermodal Triangle Project.” The project must finished by September, 2015, a condition of the $10 million federal grant being used to pay for the improvements. If the deadline isn’t met, the city could lose the grant, city officials have said.

The project includes improvements in and around Union Station; along the park on Jewell and Wells streets and around Gold Street.