Hotel idea pitched for long-vacant Fort Trumbull property

A Massachusetts-based hotel owner and developer says he is interested in building a $15 million hotel and conference center on a long-vacant waterfront parcel in the Fort Trumbull area.

Jay Patel of J-Patel Hotel Group pitched his idea Thursday to members of the Renaissance City Development Association, which owns and is marketing the land.

His plans are in the early stages, but Patel said he envisions a 90- to 120-room hotel with stand-alone restaurant and coffee shop and a future marina and docking facility. The size and footprint of the hotel, along with the brand, likely would be determined at the outcome of a feasibility study, he said.

“If New London wants a hotel that is on the waterfront — this is the site,” Patel told members of the RCDA’s Real Estate Committee.

Patel, who runs his business with his wife and children, owns a Hampton by Hilton in Auburn, Mass., and is constructing a Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites in Sturbridge, Mass.

The proposed hotel would be situated on the 9.4-acre site at Fort Trumbull known as Parcel 1, the largest and most prominent piece of property on the peninsula with waterfront access. The area was identified as a hotel site more than 15 years ago, when the city first announced plans for the 90-acre municipal development area.

Commercial fishermen who operate from the pier on the property would have to be relocated, according to RCDA attorney Karl-Erik Sternlof. The relocation is part of an agreement with the state and is likely to include involvement of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and perhaps the Connecticut Port Authority.

RCDA Executive Director Peter Davis said he and Sternlof have planned talks with attorneys for the Patels prior to a vote by the RCDA on whether or not to enter into negotiations that could lead to a development agreement.

The Patels are represented by attorneys Glenn Carberry and William Sweeney from New London law firm TCORS.

Carberry led Thursday’s presentation and said Patel has the assets, liquidity and debt financing available for the project, as evidenced by a confidential financial statement submitted to the RCDA “that shows the strength of their operation.”

The hotel, he said, would add about 22 full-time jobs to a region in desperate need and also place a tax-exempt property back on the tax rolls. The timing is also right, Carberry said, with the growth of Electric Boat and even the potential for the city to expand its cruise ship market.

Davis said the proposal was encouraging and a sign that “interest in New London goes beyond this region.”

Proposals have come and gone in the years since land in the Fort Trumbull area was cleared to make way for development and the city and the New London Development Corp., predecessor of the RCDA, became embroiled in a legal battle over eminent domain. That fight led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2005 that ruled the city had the right to take property by eminent domain for economic development.

The multi-million-dollar renovation of an existing 88,000-square-foot office building by the Boston firm Corcoran Jennison remains the only development on the property since 2000.

Most blame the downturn in the economy for the lack of development but the RCDA also will point to significant accomplishments that are not immediately apparent.

Along with residences, the area included 32 acres of vacant former Navy property, a vacant oil terminal, railroad yard and contaminated land. More than $90 million in state and federal funds have been invested in the area to remove environmental contaminants, construct streets, add infrastructure and uncover and open Fort Trumbull State Park.

The RCDA appears to have been revitalized under the administration of New London Mayor Michael Passero. The city pitched in money for the RCDA to hire Davis and Assistant Executive Director Frank McLaughlin and in return has enlisted the RCDA to market city-owned properties and work on its harbor management plan.

The RCDA last week named the Tagliatela family, doing business as New London County Realty LLC, the preferred developer for two vacant plots of land off Howard Street. Tony Silvestri, the project manager for the Howard Street development, envisions a mixed-use 50-unit condominium development with a host of amenities on 5.4 acres.

The Tagliatela family owns Franklin Properties, developed and operates Saybrook Point Inn and Spa in Old Saybrook and was the financial backer behind Harbour Towers in New London.

Davis said the RCDA used a $400,000 federal grant to remediate contamination at the Howard Street site and the developer has agreed to absorb what is likely hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional cleanup costs still needed before construction can start. He said that project could start next year.

Additionally, the RCDA is working toward a development agreement with A.R. Building Co. — the developer that has pitched the idea of a 90-unit residential complex down the road at so-called Parcel J — at the corner of Howard and Bank streets.

By Greg Smith, The Day staff writer

Click here to view this article as it appeared in The Day.