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Artist rendering of a proposed Hilton Garden Inn at the intersection of Rte. 68 and Research Pkwy. in Wallingford.

Wallingford hotel owner requests changes during negotiations

WALLINGFORD — The owner of an unfinished Route 68 hotel who recently received partial approval from the Town Council for a tax agreement has requested changes during negotiations with the town’s Law Department.

“We are very close to getting something done,” Jay Davies, managing director of Winston Hospitality, Inc., said Friday. Robert Winston, owner of the Raleigh, N.C.-based company, proposes to build a 139-room Hilton Garden Inn at 1181 Barnes Road, just off Interstate 91.

Davies sent a letter to council members on Wednesday updating them on the project and negotiations. According to the letter, Corporation Counsel Janis Small sent a copy of the town’s drafted agreement to Winston on March 25. Davies said he replied March 31 and requested modifications to two sections.

“Winston is optimistic that these negotiations will come to an amicable resolution in the near term,” Davies wrote.

On Friday, Davies would not discuss the specifics of the changes. Small did not return a request for comment.

When the Town Council approved a schedule of tax payments on March 18, economic development officials urged the council to put other requirements in writing, including deadlines and the amount Winston would have to invest in the property. The Law Department is drafting an agreement that must be approved by the council.

Since Winston took ownership of the unfinished hotel project a year ago, he has negotiated with the town to lower his tax payments. Winston has said this would allow him to complete the project. Winston initially offered to pay an estimated $670,000 in taxes over the next seven years. But Town Assessor Shelby Jackson disagreed with Winston’s property appraisal and felt the hotel should be valued higher, bringing in about $1.2 million over that seven-year period. Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and the Economic Development Commission favored Jackson’s assessment. On March 18, the council came to a compromise with Winston, who agreed to pay $818,000.

Dickinson previously said that the Law Department would be putting the council’s words into writing with the draft. The back and forth negotiations with the hotel developer is disconcerting, Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said.

“There was always a concern up until the moment Winston came before us,” said Fishbein, the only councilor to vote against the tax agreement with Winston. “They’ve been negotiating behind closed doors for a year, and I objected to that.”

Regarding the negotiations, Fishbein said, “I’m out of the loop.”

Other councilors weren’t as concerned.

“It’s not unusual not to agree on everything,” Councilor John LeTourneau said. “It may be subtle points that just need to be addressed.”

“I’m not pressing the panic button,” said Councilor John Sullivan.

After speaking to Small on Friday, Sullivan said he was assured the two parties are just “trading some language.”

“It’s all going to be worked out,” he said.

Jackson said he didn’t know there were any negotiations. At issue could be his appraisal, Jackson said.

Winston’s seven-year tax agreement doesn’t go into effect until the building is complete and a certificate of occupancy is issued, Jackson said. Until then, Winston will be taxed based on an appraisal he criticized before the council. Jackson appraised the finished hotel at $12.5 million. Winston’s appraisal at the same point is about $6 million less.

The hotel in its current state is appraised at $3.1 million, Jackson said. As construction progresses, he said, taxes will be increased accordingly based on his $12.5 million appraisal.

Jackson said he stands by his appraisal, especially after he learned that a Hampton Inn & Suites in Manchester sold for about $11.7 million in late March. That hotel is 20,000-square-feet smaller and has 19 fewer rooms than what Winston proposes to build. Economically, Manchester is comparable to Wallingford, Jackson said. That the smaller hotel sold for nearly the price of his appraisal for the Winston hotel is indicative of the market, he said.

Davies said in his letter that Winston is pursuing additional financial assistance through the state Department of Economic and Community Development’s Small Bus-iness Express Program. State statute says that any business that plans to be operating for longer than 12 months with fewer than 100 employees is eligible for the program. Winston said he hopes to hire nearly 50 people. The program offers a matching grant maxing out at $100,000 along with loans of as much as $100,000 and $300,000.

aragali@record-journal.com (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz



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