December 16, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
The effort to get historic landmark status for the Colt Gateway complex got a second life Friday, two months after its rejection unleashed a flood of outrage from local, state and federal officials.
The National Park Service's advisory board in Washington told its landmarks committee Friday to reconsider the Colt application it rejected in October. The landmarks panel will meet again in the spring.
"This is a good thing," said Colt official Rebekah MacFarlane. "We knew they weren't going to reverse the [October] decision. This is what we expected and hoped for."
The news was greeted favorably by state preservation officials who said the new review will give the Colt project a second chance to demonstrate the complex's historical significance.
"It's like a fresh start," said Mary Donohue, survey and grants director at the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism.
The Colt Gateway project is a $115 million plan to turn the hulking complex with its trademark blue onion dome, just west of I-91, into apartments. As part of its development process, the project sought recognition as a national historic landmark and has been working with the National Park Service to that end.
In October, a park service committee decided against recommending the project for landmark status - citing, in part, concerns that the planned conversion of the factory space into apartments would not preserve the "integrity" of the building and would mask the elements that make it historically significant.
That denial met with the disapproval of several public officials, including the governor, who expressed "bitter disappointment."
After the denial, the project's advocates claimed they had been sabotaged by James L. Griffin - an advocate for a museum in the Colt facility who argued against the designation and the conversion project at the October hearing.
Griffin has long wanted to bring to the complex a museum dedicated to Samuel Colt's legacy. The site's owners have told Griffin they aren't interested.
Griffin sent a letter to the landmark committee on behalf of his Sam & Elizabeth Colt Industrial Ingenuity and Cultural Center opposing the historic designation, but the letter spurred controversy of its own. It appeared to include the signature of a board chairman, Anthony Autorino, who told The Courant he isn't a board member and didn't sign anything.
Griffin said in an interview that he signed the letter on Autorino's behalf in haste.
On Friday, Griffin - who said he spoke at the hearing, urging the original rejection be reaffirmed - said he understood the board's decision.
"They're going to get another day in court, and I think that's fair," Griffin said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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