Whatever Happpened to that New London “Charette”?

You may recall our post of April 21, 2011, about how the City of New London – one of the all-time champions in the redevelopment/eminent domain screw-up derby, was pondering new horizons by consulting the Great Unwashed about what ought to be built at Fort Trumbull, the site of that big time municipal disaster popularly known as the case of Kelo v. New London.  (Go to http://gideonstrumpet.info/?p=1013 ), That, as you probably know, was the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 5 to 4, managed to PO some 90% of the country’s population when it held that the city of New London could take by eminent domain an entire unoffending, unblighted lower middle-class neighborhood, kick out its long-time inhabitants, raze it to the ground, and turn its site over for a buck per year to a developer who — so went the plan — would build all sorts of residential and commercial goodies for the delectation of well-paid professional employees of the nearby Pfizer pharmaceutical company research center. All this was supposed to do wonders for New London by way of upgrading the community and increasing tax revenues.

But, alas, nothing of the sort happened. The developer, in spite of the freebie land, couldn’t even get financing (even before the crash of 2008), the redevelopment project turned out to be a total bust, and adding insult to injury, Pfizer announced that it is shutting down its New London facility altogether and leaving town, taking some 1400 jobs with it, and leaving the city and the State of Connecticut holding the bag to the tune of at least $80,000,000 — and probably substantially more (we have seen estimates running as high as twice that figure.

So Fort Trumbull, the 91-acre site of that municipal and moral disaster has been sitting vacant for the past five years, doing no one any good and depriving the city of taxes on that land which, being now publicly owned, is not taxed. And so, as we reported, the city held that “charette” which is French for a bunch of local folks with no discernible qualifications in city planning, getting together to munch on cookies, sip on lemonade, and BS about how in their collective opinion a particular area should be developed. Unsurprisingly, the attendees came up with all sorts of wonderful things for that land, including a facility for cruise ship docking (no, we are not making that up), even though, if press reports are to be believed, there was no mention of the cost off all those goodies.

We were just getting outfitted for some new, fashionable nautical duds in contemplation of taking a cruise on the QE 2 out of New London, when — guess what? — THE DAY, the New London newspaper, has brought us the dispatch that, instead, it’s back to the drawing board with a local developer who is talking about “clusters of attractive Greek Revival and Italianate units with inconspicuous garages and ample green space.” See Editorial, Developing Fort Trumbull, April 23, 2011 – http://www.theday.com/article/20110423/Op01/304239968

Of course, all that leaves open the sordid question of money: who is going to pay for all these goodies — those Italianate Greek Revival thingies don’t come cheap, you know. The answer to that question — if that is what it is — is: freebies. Quoth THE DAY: “[T]he developers are virtually getting the property free.” And on top of that “they will be asking for some sort of tax abatement. Without one, they say the project might not be feasible.” Oh dear.

So stay tuned, folks. New London took these properties in the year 2000, and we started writing about that disaster in 2006. That’s a total of five or eleven years depending on how you choose to count, and so far nothing has been built on the Fort Trumbull redevelopment site. Either way you count, it may be useful to recall that it took us a mere four years to fight and win World War II. So is the New London caper good enough for government work? We don’t think so.

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