It wasn't so long ago that Shawn Eddy was extracting and manipulating genes of laboratory mice in hopes of finding cures for virulent diseases.
But as a young Yale research scientist, Eddy, a native of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, never forgot about what his grandfather taught him about land. Whenever possible, however possible, said granddad, a farmer, buy it.
After several successful real estate deals - from the purchase of his first home in Amherst, Mass., at age 21 to fixing and flipping luxury condos and commercial property in New Haven - Eddy's next experiment is his most exhilarating.
The 30-year-old Springfield resident and his partner, Anne Bell, are trying to turn 24,000 square feet of prime but long dormant downtown Hartford property into a moneymaker.
Nine years after the brief run of Corny T's - formerly Spencer's - The Emperor at The Linden restaurant/lounge is open for business at the corner of Main Street and Capitol Avenue.
Corny T's, owned by former University of Connecticut basketball standout Corny Thompson, opened with a splash in the summer of 1997 but closed less than three months later. It was the old story with new businesses: too many bills, not enough cash and shortsighted management.
Eddy's vocation is now real estate investing. His avocation is the restaurant and nightclub business. He considers himself a connoisseur of elegant tastes in dining and nightlife and believes his vision of an upscale place fit for a king - or an emperor - will be a hit.
Eddy and Bell purchased the space for $575,000. "When I walked the property, tears came to my eyes," Eddy said as we toured his place. "This was hands-down one of the best deals I'd seen in my life. I was like, oh my gosh, this is perfect. Nice structure, beautiful building, an upscale clientele right upstairs. It just needed to be brought up to speed." After a half-million dollars of improvements, the former research scientist is confident he's found the right formula for international dining and a good party.
An ebony grand piano sits in the dining area with the candle-lit tables and a refinished Al Capone bar. One of the many lounges hosts the "Emperor's Table" - a 10-seat linear structure in which guests can watch on a projection screen as the chefs in the kitchen prepare their meals. Eddy says the in-kitchen camera is an accent popular in New York and Miami; as is the "Emperor's Lounge" - or is it lair? - downstairs.
In the cavernous basement there are three queen sized beds - yes, beds - with leather headboards, sofas and chairs, big screen televisions, a bar, dance floor and champagne holders scattered about. Adjacent to the lair is a cigar room. This is a place where your imagination can definitely get the best of you. OK, mine did. But I did resist the urge to exclaim: "Bring me your finest meats and cheeses."
I've made no secret of my fascination with this property once owned by boxing promoter Don King. Only in America could a gold mine like this sit vacant in the capital city of the richest state for almost a decade.
The sheer size intimidated speculators, as did the $60,000-a-year tax bite. But nearly 60 condos rest above the structure, which is across from a federal courthouse, the public library and city hall, and is within walking distance of the state Capitol and the convention center. The Emperor is so big it could accommodate a bachelorette party, a billiards tournament, a wine-tasting exhibit and a business conference all at the same time.
Quite a mixture, indeed. But Eddy is used to tinkering.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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