I received the list of 15 properties the city will auction on April 20 and made my usual calls to get descriptions of the pieces, find out which ones are most interesting and could bring in the biggest bids for the city.
I was surprised to learn three of the tiniest lots could be the most interesting.
Tax Collector Kathy Daley told me Joe Gentile bought the tiny vacant lots at 27 W. Thames St., 279 N. Main St. and 97 School St. back in 2004 under the name Beit Shemesh LLC at a similar city auction. He planned to use the land to erect billboards to promote his dreamland development projects, she said.
Back then, Gentile was still the flamboyant would-be developer of a $1.6 billion proposed Utopia Studios entertainment project at the former Norwich Hospital in Preston. He first courted the state and then strung along the town of Preston and local construction labor unions with promises of millions in tax revenue and thousands of top-paying jobs.
In August, 2006, Gentile pledged $500,000 to the Otis Library’s $10.5 million renovation to name the children’s library in his daughter's name. I still remember sitting in the back corner of the Council Chambers the night of the announcement, wondering if I was the only skeptic in the house. I wasn’t.
Even before Gentile failed colossally in 2007 to prove to Preston he could finance his project and reneged on his pledge to Otis Library – insulting the library board with accusations that the board had failed to keep some vague made-up agreement with him – he cheated the city tax office.
“He never paid taxes on the lots,” Tax Collector Daley said.
So the city will auction them again on Friday along with the 12 other properties beginning at 10 a.m. at City Hall.
Maybe the city should turn over the meager proceeds from these three lots to Otis Library, which had to take out a bank loan and seek more funding from an already financially strapped community to cover the only failed pledge in the entire capital campaign drive.