Published June 22. 2014 4:00AM
I floated, back in September 2013, an idea for reopening New London's Lighthouse Inn that at the time probably seemed a little far-fetched.
The idea came from members of the New London Lodge of Elks, who suggested they might be willing to trade their big building on Washington Street for the Lighthouse Inn.
At a glance, it might look like the Elks were getting the better end of that deal, a property near the beach assessed by the city at $3.2 million in trade for a downtown building assessed at $488,000.
But now that the city is mulling whether to give the inn to an auction low bidder, who defied the minimum bid rule of $500,000 and offered a paltry $100,000, I think it might be time to take a second look at the offer from the Elks.
First of all, you could say the Elks are offering more.
Not only is their big brick building suitable for renovation into apartments and probably attractive to developers, but it has a big parking lot, too.
The Elks have been dutifully paying $13,000 a year in property taxes to the city on the building and maintain it well.
If the city didn't sell it right away, it could bank the property, since there is discussion that the new magnet high school at the nearby Garde Arts Center might need more space. The new school could certainly use the parking.
At the other end of the trade, the city might consider giving the Elks the main inn building while keeping the additional land, which might be banked as a community park or eventually sold off as house lots.
Surely, over time, a couple of house lots with easy access to sandy beaches would be worth a lot more than $100,000.
I like the idea because it rewards a fine community organization, one with a mission of raising money for worthy causes.
The Elks are a welcoming and diverse organization with women and minorities well represented in its leadership ranks.
There is some precedence for Elks lodges running properties similar to the Lighthouse Inn. In New London, they would run it again as an inn and restaurant.
Neighbors with fond memories of the Lighthouse Inn can consider joining the lodge and actually participate in the rebirth of a place so many care about. For that matter, anyone in the city can consider taking part.
Surely the lodge's ranks would grow, with a clubhouse with water views and beach rights. That would be good for the lodge and its good works and good for the cause of restoring the inn and keeping it open.
If someone started the ball rolling last September, when they first floated the idea, the place would be open today, back on the tax rolls.
Letting a public-minded organization with deep roots in the community take responsibility for a city icon makes a lot of sense.
Or, as Mayor Daryl Finizio has suggested, they could give it to an out-of-towner who submitted a bid below the minimum, a guy who is accused in a pending federal lawsuit of unscrupulously preying on an Alaskan Indian tribe.
Maybe someone should mention the Elks idea to Gov. Dannel Malloy.
We all know the mayor is likely to do whatever the governor tells him to.
This is the opinion of David Collins.