New London — A tax auction of the Lighthouse Inn failed to elicit a single bid Thursday, leaving the City of New London as the new owner and keeping the future of the historic property in limbo.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said after the auction at City Hall that the city would make necessary repairs and then put the 4.2-acre property back on the market as soon as possible. He said the city would not require a minimum sale price such as the minimum tax auction price of $577,721.04, thus allowing more flexibility in attempts to find a buyer.
"Our primary concern now with the Lighthouse Inn is to do the necessary repairs and improvements to sell the inn as soon as possible to a responsible developer," Finizio said. "We'll be able to sell the property at any price."
Finizio said the inn currently has two small roof holes that must be patched up, and the grounds need some attention. He wouldn't estimate when the city might start marketing the property but noted that the Office of Development & Planning would be involved in the process, as would the firm Quinn & Hary Marketing, which was retained by the city just this month to handle public relations.
"If the building starts falling further into disrepair, finding an appropriate developer will not be possible," Finizio said.
He gave no estimate on repair costs, saying only that they would be minimal. Others have estimated that restoring the Lighthouse Inn to its previous grandeur would cost somewhere between $1 million and $1.5 million.
The auction — the third in the past four years for the Lighthouse Inn property — was overseen by State Marshal Joe Heap, who announced at the end of a two-hour auction of other city properties that were behind on tax payments that no bids had been received for the inn.
The Business Loan Center, which took over ownership of the historic inn after McGrath Hotels LLC defaulted on a mortgage, told the city earlier this month that it had decided to walk away from the property and let it be auctioned at a tax sale.
Officials said two or three potential buyers had shown interest in the property. But the $577,000 minimum bid and a requirement that buyers wait for six months to gain title — not to mention a separate tax bill owed on personal property at the Lighthouse Inn — apparently dissuaded bidders, officials said.
Finizio said it is possible that the 1902 inn's personal property — which includes some valuable antiques — could be included as part of any deal the city makes for the landmark as a whole. The property includes three buildings — about 32,000 square feet of space and 51 guest rooms.
In 2010, New Haven businessman Anthony Acri bought the inn at auction for $1.25 million. He reportedly toured the property again earlier this month, but he did not appear for the auction. Acri backed out of his original auction deal after break-ins at the inn resulted in the loss of some personal property.
Earlier this year, the Business Loan Center held an online auction of the property but no bid met a minimum price that the auctioneer declined to define.