The North End Housing Initiative (NEHI)

Chapter 3: January 2003 -2004

In January 2003, the Redevelopment Agency asked NEHI for a progress report. This time we were completely prepared. Talks were given by Carl Rodenhizer of the Connection Fund and Krishna Winston from Wesleyan. We'd produced power point demos, architectural renditions, talking points and fact sheets.

This material was summarized in our response (known as a letter of transmissal ) to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the City to all agencies wishing to receive block grant funding from the City for 2003. Between her teaching schedule in the German department at Wesleyan and her activities as Gunther Grass' translator , Krishna found time to compile a thoroughly professional document. It's title is:

Proposal Submitted to the Middletown Redevelopment Agency
for implementation of the
North End Urban Renewal Plan, January 2003

The Table of Contents is gives some indication of its comprehensiveness:

This document is a modification, with major additions, of one submitted to the City on February 13, 2001, which itself is based on the one submitted on February 10, 2000 and put together by Krishna, myself and others. Of course it isn't unusual that a proposal be re-submitted several times before being approved. One does wonder why after being awarded preferred developer status in July 2002, we were once again being asked explain our "means, motive and opportunity". Such are the ways of bureaucracy.

Michael Taylor, (director of Nehemiah House) , submitted NEHI's Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) application to the relevant agencies on February 6th.Despite their overlapping jurisdictions ( The RA advises the Department of Planning and Zoning ), on February 13 NEHI was instructed to give another presentation to P&Z.

Let me digress here, very briefly, to describe our efforts to block a certain kind of business from opening in the North End, and how the city dealt with us. With the closing of the Master Supply hardware store on the corner of Main Street and Green, a large commercial space had become available. Less than a block above it on Main Street to the north there is a liquor store, the North End Package Store, owned by a Mr. J. Bagley. Bagley put in a request that he be allowed to occupy the vacated space and open up a large liquor store designed to serve a "more discriminating clientele" in anticipation of the general rise in living standards that everyone just knew was about to happen in the North End.

NEAT thinks that this neighborhood has enough alcoholics for its taste. Between the adjacent presence of a St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen, Mark's Community Health Center and other social services, the concentration of recovering and not-so-recovering alcoholics is much larger than what one might normally expect in a poor neighborhood. Most pertinent is fact that the location of Bagley's liquor store, being too close to his other store, is prohibited by local zoning laws. (One can assume, I think, that these zoning laws were passed in response to issues of public safety stemming from a concentration of alcoholics in a give neighborhood. )

NEAT pointed all of this out at several Common Council meetings. Seeing that the City intended to give a waiver to Bagley anyway, NEAT engaged a lawyer to file suit against it. Unfortunately we were unable to amass enough signatures. NEAT has always had problems with motivating the neighborhood to act in its own interests, or even to know where these interests lay. As for the City, it wasn't interested in implementing its own laws. In March, 2003, the mayor Domenique Thornton simply handed Bagley his waiver to the accompaniment of encouraging words to the effect that the City welcomes the presence of his spirit of enterprise in the North End. Now there are two liquor stores in our tiny North End. Unfortunate derelicts begin clustering around them at 7 in the morning. (Perhaps earlier; I don't leave my building before 7:30)

May 30th, 2003 is an important date in the history of NEHI. It was on that day that Calvin Price, adviser to NEHI and officer in charge of community relations for the Liberty Bank, convened a meeting of NEHI with all the town's bankers. Present at the meeting were representatives from the Fleet Bank (now Bank of America), People's Bank , the Webster Bank, Liberty Bank , and Citizen's Bank. Wachovia did not at that time have a branch in Middletown.

Given that it is in the nature of their profession that bankers show and exercise caution, the meeting was a success. No funding was committed but the bank representatives did promise to take our proposals to their boards. One thing seemed to worry them - I think it was the man from Citizen's Bank that expressed most of the reservations - NEHI seemed to be placing too many organizations at the table at once . Their banks might not be comfortable extending loans to NEHI ( though formally incorporated as an LLC), without knowing which of its 4 developers would be held accountable for them. Questions were raised about the powers exercised by NEAT. Although now a corporation in its own right, NEHI was officially the Housing Committee of NEAT, to whom the LLC contract gave veto rights in many basic issues of North End housing.

Would this entity be sharing any of the financial obligations? (Apparently not, from what we were telling them.) If not, then why did it appear that NEAT was running the show? Their reservations were on the conservative side ( in the old, healthy meaning of the word "conservative", (just as there was once an old, healthy meaning of the word "gay")) , but they were not unreasonable. NEHI could have dealt with the banks one step at a time, delegating responsibilities to each of the cooperating organizations as the need arose.

Yet it was to be this issue, ("too many developers"), that would be exploited by the City, effectively if with great clumsiness, to destroy NEHI.

It did this indirectly. Bill Warner of Planning and Zoning had always insisted that he wanted a private for-profit developer as one of the members of NEHI ( despite the charge that there were already too many of us) . On May 29th NEHI discussed the possibility of inviting a local contractor, Paul Fusari to join us. When Fusari declined, Warner indicated that he wanted us to work with the Richman Group. NEHI therefore agreed to cooperate with Richman, with the proviso that the agreement that could be terminated by either side with 30 days notice.

The person designated by Richman to work with NEHI is an astonishingly rude woman named Pam King. Starting in June, and over the summer of 2003 she sent us numerous E-mails demanding detailed information: numbers of rental and home ownership units, income and population distribution, things of that sort. At the same time, she refused to send us any information at all about Richman's plans for the North End; most of the E-mails we sent her, in fact, simply went unanswered. Although Pam King offered to meet with us on several occasions she did not show up at any of the NEHI meetings until January, 2004!

At that meeting, addressing us in a manner that suggested friendly cooperation, she informed us that Richman expected to assume, as it has always done in every city it's worked in, full control of the project. This being the case, we were under an obligation to designate one of our members as the lead developer. Since our agreement with Richman allowed us to pull out on 30 days notice, we would have done so, had not Bill Warner continued to insist that we work with them.Eventually we caved in on this matter, and voted to put NEHI in the hands of the Connection Fund. Things proceeded quickly after that: the City very conveniently decided that it had never liked the Connection Fund, despite or perhaps because of its real achievements in constructing low-income housing in Middletown. It thereupon dropped its agreement with NEHI altogether and threw in its lot with the Richman Group.

It is not certain whether the Richman Group contacted Middletown first or, as is more likely, Bill Warner asked them in to dispose of us. The Richman Group is the life's work of Richard Paul Richman. With headquarters located in Greenwich, Connecticut, (home for 3 generations of Bush imperialists ), the Richman Group , as its name indicates, is a consortium of corporations engaged in 4 interrelated activities: real estate, investment banking, property management and asset management. With my limited familiarity with the world of finance, the impression I get from this is that the Richman Group functions as its own bank and financial advisor for its real-estate activities, enabling it to slosh money about in its diverse corporate activities so as to maximize profits, minimize taxes, and push people around.

Currently the 13th largest owner of rental property in the country, Richman, as Pam King reminds the City at least once at every meeting, is worth billions. However, since its first emergence on the Middletown scene in May ,2003 it has not committed a penny to any of the ground work, such as due diligence, housing surveys, acquisition costs, etc. required by the Memorandum of Understanding.

In June of 2004, when it had become clear that the City intended to railroad NEHI and hand the North End over to Richman, I sat down at the Internet and compiled a profile of the Richard Paul Richman and the Richman Group's many corporate avatars since the 60's. This report may be read at : The Richman Group of Corporations

On August 14 NEHI held its meeting in the offices of Calvin Price at Liberty Bank. After some heated discussion, the organization voted unanimously to reject Bill Warner's proposal that a new street be cut through the neighborhood, between Ferry and Green Streets. It is an open question whether Warner really wanted a street there in the first place. Then we suspended our regular Thursday morning meetings until the Fall, though all of us remained active on an individual basis.

Unbeknownst to us, a new actor was about the mount the stage

Goodspeed Musicals uses Middletown
as bait for bigger fish:
with predictable consequences for the North End

December 3 ,2003: Goodspeed Musicals and the Goodspeed Opera Foundation have been located in East Haddam, Connecticut since 1963. (that East Haddam sits next door to the notorious nuclear power plant installation at Haddam Neck may or may not be relevant to this article, yet is not without interest in its own right.)

"On June 18, 1963 , the Goodspeed Opera House...began its now 41-year commitment to the preservation and development of musical theater in America. Since that time Goodspeed has produced more than 183 musicals, 16 of which moved to Broadway and 43 that were world-premiere productions. Under the direction of Michael P. Price, Goodspeed Musicals continues to set the standard for musical theater excellence, presenting bold, new works and timeless classics. " -Goodspeed Musical News, June 23, 2004

In December, 2003, Goodspeed told the city government of Middletown ( Goodspeed publicity states, somewhat illogically, that it was the City who first approached it.) that it was considering moving from East Haddam, ( its home for 4 decades with a worldwide reputation based exclusively on the presence of Goodspeed ) , to re-establish itself in Middletown. Its executive director, Michael P. Price and marketing director, Dan McMahon, indicated that it had been thinking about this move for 6 years.

Persons I spoke to familiar with the tactics of "bait and switch" practiced by Goodspeed in the past, did not set much stock by this. It was clear from the outset that Michael Price had devised a clever tactic to pressure East Haddam into changing its zoning laws to allow it to build a new $45 million theater across the street from its present headquarters in the Goodspeed Opera House. These regulations include requirements for environmental impact studies, maintaining a certain consistent historical profile described as a "village atmosphere", and protecting property values in the district.

The Middletown worthies didn't see it that way and jumped eagerly at the bait. Having done nothing at all for the population of the North End for 50 years, it now indicated that it was willing to pour untold millions into a monumental reconstruction of the downtown area around Main Street. In return Goodspeed had only to show up in 2008 and move into the gorgeous palace to be given it without investing a penny of its own money. In the words of Michael Price: ' Imagine all the possibilities when Goodspeed opens on Main Street among an assortment of trendy and international restaurants and boutiques. It will be a delightful new Goodspeed experience.'

It appears that once the acquisition of Goodspeed began to look like a real probability, word suddenly came down from the Mayor's office that a "quick fix" on the unsightly North End had become top priority. Although the North End is on the other side of Washington Street from the proposed new theater, the residents of our NEHI district were going to be displaced to make way for housing for singers, actors and other Goodspeed personnel. Parking, which could only be in the North End, would have to be provided for the audiences to Goodspeed productions, and it was intolerable that they be exposed to dangerous drug gangs, drunks, unkempt paupers, homeless derelicts standing in soup lines outside the St. Vincent de Paul or the partially rehabilitated residents of the Nehemiah House apartments.

In other words, new strong incentives had arrived for dumping the non-profit developers of NEHI with their commitment to gradualism, and replacing us by the Richman Group. As we later learned, Richman had promised to flatten the entire district with a single blow, (with the exception of a few large public buildings) and throw up rental housing in record time, well before the projected 2008 date for the completion of the Goodspeed Opera House. (See the following chapter).

In the face of such determination from the City NEHI had little chance of prevailing. In June, 2004, it looked as if the final word in this saga had been written, when the Board of Trustees of Goodspeed voted "overwhelmingly to select Middletown as the location of its new theatre." In order to get this approval, Middletown had agreed to apply for a $30 million grant from the State Department of Economic and Community Development and an additional $10 million to build the theater. This money would be used to:

This aspect of the deal would be of direct benefit to Mark Masselli, director of the Middletown Housing Authority. Masselli had this to say: "I need somebody to pinch me. Goodspeed is coming to Middletown!"

Mayor Thornton: "The significance of this project can't be overestimated."

Michael Price threw in this delicious bit of blarney: he'd thought that the only true excitement in his life came from learning when his son would marry. Now, he thought instead, "of the city of Middletown and its efforts to make our dreams come true."

Apparently this was all the pressure that was needed to convince East Haddam to surrender. On November 19th, Brad Parker First Selectman for East Haddam, announced that the Planning and Zoning Commission would be meeting in a few days to re-consider the possibility of rezoning the Village District so as to allow Goodspeed Musicals to continue with a theater building that had already been under construction but was halted in the interim. This announcement followed very shortly after the news that Middletown's demands for $40 from the state had been categorically rejected. According to Bill Warner, the application had been turned down almost immediately on the grounds that East Haddam had already filed an identical application! Two years ago!! Of course the Middletown officials hadn't been told a thing, nor was there anyone alert, awake and on the job to do the background research.

By January 2005, the Goodspeed mirage was as dead in the hearts of the politicos of Middletown as it had always been in the minds of the wily conspirators of Goodspeed Musicals. Too late, alas, to save the North End Housing Initiative, which had already been slated for demolition before Goodspeed's bid for a piece of the "Middletown Renaissance". The whole story may be read on the Internet: place the words "Goodspeed" and "Middletown" into the Google search engine.

A few days after this article was posted on the Internet I received an E-mail from Michael Price, director of the Goodspeed Opera. In it he stated that my views of the events surrounding the proposal to move Goodspeed to Middletown were mistaken and he would be happy to correct them. In reply I sent off this reply:

"OK Mr. Price.You probably have a point when you criticize my bias towards a prevalent Machiavellianism in back of Goodspeed's proposals. I would therefore welcome some clarification on these questions:

  1. Why is it that from the first day that the Goodspeed offer became known in Middletown, people were saying "Of course. Goodspeed is putting pressure on East Haddam to get what it wants."? Why is it that so many people said, "That's the Goodspeed style"?

  2. East Haddam is not just a location. From what I gather. The very geography of the town, parking facilities,stores and restaurants, roads, etc., has been shaped by the presence of Goodspeed over four decades. Why would Goodspeed give up a theater seating 1,000 patrons or so, in a town built around that theater, to go to a new venue where everything must begin from scratch? Isn't it obvious that East Haddam would go to any lengths to keep your company in its town?

  3. What about the application to the State that was sent by East Haddam 2 years earlier for the same funding? Why wasn't Middletown told about it?

  4. That bit about your son's marriage is a real gem. Unless the newspaper misquoted you.

  5. I'm sure you weren't aware of the effect on the plans of the North End district produced by the Goodspeed offet. This is another example of the totally dysfunctional way the City goes about its business (which is not your fault)

  6. Why did Goodspeed never acknowledge the receipt of the Memorandum of Understanding?
All of these details contribute to a scenario of calculation, (which is not the same thing as a proof that there has been such calculation). Needless to say, although I am concerned about the effects on the North End district of Middletown, for me like everyone else in this town the "Goodspeed bubble" was a huge disappointment. The establishment of a Goodspeed theater would have completely transformed the character of the City, in many ways for the better.

Given the exaggerated expectations, combined with the sense that the most reasonable interpretation was that a "bait and switch" ploy was in the offing, one really feels that your company has betrayed the people of this city, (albeit not to the extent that out own city government is a betrayal).

A week later Mr. Price responded by sending along an article published in the Hartford Courant on February 27th. The relevant excerpt is reproduced here. The article doesn't answer even a single one of the questions I asked him. The theory of a "conspiracy" by one Congresswoman to block a project that, on the face of it, seemed to have little relationship to reality, is weak indeed. Until something more substantial is offered I see no reason to alter what I've written on this matter:

The Hartford Courant
February 27, 2005
"Now Playing: Budget Strife
"After Rowland's Largesse, Arts World Faces A Shift
"....After years of theater expansion across the state, the momentum has slowed as institutions now face a new power-base reality: a new governor, a new legislature and a new state commission for culture and tourism.
No longer are there tens of millions in bonding money that in the past decade was doled out by Gov. John G. Rowland and legislators for capital arts projects, mainly to enhance urban downtowns across the state.(....) what will the new financial template be for arts funding?
The forecast is mixed( .........)
Synergy seemed to be the reason why the Goodspeed Opera House decided to say goodbye to East Haddam and take Middletown's offer to build a new $40 million theater downtown. The old Goodspeed Opera House, on the banks of the Connecticut River, would have opened for just the summer.
But Goodspeed didn't figure in the ire of a politician scorned, namely powerful state Sen. Eileen Dailey, whose district includes East Haddam. She became angered that Goodspeed didn't stay in town. She has used her considerable clout as chairwoman of the bonding committee to block funding for the new theater, thereby killing the move - or at least dimming hopes for it.
Goodspeed is now in talks with East Haddam to get approval from local agencies for building a new theater there. But that's the least of the problems for Goodspeed if the new theater ends up in East Haddam, as many now believe. The new problem will be raising the money for the new theater. Place this project in the wait-and-see category for 2005"

Chapter 4:Conclusion

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