On Rt. 68, just west of Rt. 91, there stands a half-built hotel, which has been blighting the area for 3 years. The owner of the hotel has said that it could be quickly rebuilt if the town offers enough financial assistance through property tax relief. The town council has declined the owner’s offer. What’s been going on?
The owner of the property, Winston Hospitality, Inc., gained title to the unfinished hotel this spring by reason of a foreclosure action. Having now taken control of the property, it wants to finish the project, and convert the building into an upscale, full service hotel. It would carry the Hilton Hotel brand and be called the Hilton Garden Inn. If completed as contemplated by the developer, the hotel would have 139 rooms, a full-service restaurant, and 4000 square feet of corporate conference space.
Bob Winston, the CEO of, Winston Hospitality, Inc., approached the Economic Development Commission early this year, and he told the commission that, in order to complete the project, his company needed substantial property tax relief over seven years.
Members of the Economic Development Commission started meeting with Mr. Winston, but by early May, after several meetings, the commission had not made much progress. By July, the EDC thought that a 25% reduction in the property tax assessment for seven years could be possible, even though that was much less than what Mr. Winston had in mind. In August, Mr. Winston made a presentation to members of the EDC, which explained his project. The town won’t release the materials Mr. Winston distributed, so the specifics are unavailable. Later in August, however, the EDC voted to recommend the 25% proposal, in spite of Mr. Winston’s request for more assistance.
In November, the EDC forwarded the 25 percent tax incentive program to the mayor in order to advance it to the town council in time for its meeting on December 10.
On December 9, however, Mr. Winston came from North Carolina and made one last effort to persuade the EDC. The town council was not specifically invited to the presentation, and only Councilor John LeTourneau attended. Mr. Winston said again that the town’s 25 percent plan was too low and he disclosed for the first time that he was moving to develop some other projects on the acreage in back of the hotel. The EDC was unmoved.
On December 10, the EDC recommended to the council that it approve the same 25 percent tax abatement plan that Mr. Winston said would not work. Councilor John LeTourneau made a motion to table the matter so that he and the council could study the materials the EDC saw the night before, and so that Winston Hospitality, Inc. could make a presentation directly to the council and answer questions. Councilor Craig Fishbein supported that motion, but to no avail. The council cut off debate, and adopted the 25 percent plan by a vote of 6-3, without knowing much, if anything, about Mr. Winston’s efforts, plans, or positions.
Maybe, accidentally, the council was right, and the EDC’s 25 percent tax abatement plan is the perfect Goldilocks solution for the unfinished hotel and all other projects that would qualify for the tax abatement plan: Not too much tax relief; not too little; but just the right amount. Maybe the hotel owner’s expectations are unreasonably high, even though the council had no basis to know that on Tuesday night. Maybe there is an interest in finding some middle ground. Who knows?
Mr. Winston might give up on his project for now and wait for something to change. Or, he could approach the council directly and try again. Or maybe he is bluffing and he’ll finish the hotel without more tax relief. That could be what the EDC thinks.
So far, Wallingford taxpayers have underwritten over $600,000 in tax abatements for profitable companies. They may yet underwrite abatements for the Hilton Garden Inn, too.
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”