As part of a campaign to make downtown more inviting, East Hartford is edging closer to buying the long-troubled Church Corners Inn rooming house on Main Street to remodel into one-bedroom apartments.
The town plans to purchase the historic four-story building and shut it down, have it gutted and contract with a private developer to rebuild.
“Our police department is called there often for various crimes, and it’s destabilizing this important section of Main Street that lies in the heart of our town,” town council member Angie Parkinson said at a recent council meeting.
“The building has been problematic for some time. There have been egregious health-code violations and serious fire-safety concerns including inadequate ingress and egress,” Parkinson said as she recommended the council’s real estate committee look into purchasing it.
Mayor Mike Walsh’s administration announced earlier this year that owner 860 Main St. LLC intends to sell the building soon, and Walsh wants the town to get involved to be sure the property doesn’t degrade any further.
If the council and the planning and zoning commission were to approve the idea, Walsh said Tuesday that the town would have an ambitious schedule: “Purchase by Dec. 1, relocation (of tenants) into early 2023, demolition by June 30, housing by the end of 2024.”
Council Chairman Rich Kehoe emphasized that East Hartford has no plans to keep the building or get into the residential-development business.
“It would be quickly switched over to a private developer,” Kehoe told the council. “We would be there just to make sure that whatever is done in the future is consistent with the betterment of the downtown area.”
The plan is to find a buyer who will gut the dilapidated building, which for years has been the subject of health-code complaints.
Town records indicate Church Corners Inn was built around 1913 and served as a hotel and restaurant for more than 60 years.
By the 1990s, it was a rooming house with rooms rented by the week and a reputation for alleged drug use in and around the building. A new owner remodeled the exterior in 1998 with a $47,000 federal grant and announced the drug problem was over, but the Church Corners Inn remained troublesome.
It has “health issues including overdoses, hoarding, mold, and bed bugs,” according to the town’s Control Tower report, a long-term plan for community revitalization. “(The) restaurant has had public safety and permitting issues.”
Police Chief Scott Sansom reported in late July that police have already handled 262 calls to the building so far this year.
So far in 2022, police have been called for two death investigations, five assaults, a robbery, seven panhandling complaints, 27 disputes, 49 well-being checks, 13 noise complaints, and 34 medical calls, among others.
“Our five-year review in January found we have responded to 2,300 calls for service at 860 Main St.,” Sansom wrote.
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If East Hartford were to divide its annual police budget by the number of townwide service calls it handles, the cost of each call would average out to $514, Sansom said. Based on that formula, 860 Main St. has cost taxpayers $1,182,000 over the past five years, he said.
The ground floor restaurant at the building has also had trouble, he said.
“In March 2020 EHPD officers found that Beso Lounge staff had placed traffic cones on Main Street to create, and charge money for, VIP parking,” Sansom wrote.
Despite the governor’s executive orders during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the restaurant stayed open, police said.
“Officers found the restaurant was operating as a nightclub, charging for entry, conducting pat downs, playing dance music audible outside, remaining open until 0200 hours, and officers heard gunshots in the area,” he wrote.
The planning and zoning commission will take up the purchase plan on Aug. 10. No purchase price has been disclosed, but appraisals put the property’s value at $1.2 million to $1.4 million.
Don Stacom can be reached at email@example.com