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A New World for Colt Nearly $1.3 million in unpaid taxes may finally shake the old gun factory loose for a new developer

Daniel D'Ambrosio

March 03, 2009

Robert MacFarlane's huge unpaid property tax bill appears to have finally caught up with him, forcing the elusive developer of Colt Gateway to relinquish control of the historic gun factory in South Meadows that many see as a key to the city's long-promised renaissance.

Or maybe not.

When first asked about the $1.27 million in unpaid property taxes MacFarlane owes, Sarah Barr, the city's communications director, wrote in an e-mail, "When it comes to the Colt project, the non-performing developer has been moved out of the way. The developer was overleveraged because of debt."

The non-performing developer to which Barr refers is MacFarlane's Homes for America Holdings, which has not done any work on the Colt property in nearly two years thanks to convoluted finances that include the bankruptcy of its primary Las Vegas-based lender. That lender, USA Capital, is also the subject of a fraud investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

MacFarlane owes $884,000 in unpaid 2007 taxes to the city, and $393,000 in unpaid 2006 taxes to Florida-based American Tax Funding, which purchased the city's tax lien.

But when pressed on whether or not MacFarlane actually no longer owns the Colt property, Barr concedes HFAH still "technically" hold the title. She says California-based Urban Smart Growth is negotiating with HFAH to take over the property, however, and is "actively working through the title issues."

"The City and State are working with the new developer Urban Smartgrowth," wrote Barr in an e-mail. "What is being determined is the actual cost and all the potential uses of the project. As for the taxes specifically, all of that is part of the ongoing negotiations with the new developer. They will be paid with interest and fees."

MacFarlane did not return a call for comment.

David Saadeh of Urban Smart Growth, said the city may have spoken "a little ahead of themselves" in identifying USG as the new developer.

"We don't own the property, that's the bottom line," he said.

Saadeh acknowledged, however, that USG is negotiating to take over the project, and said he didn't want to contradict Barr.

"We're at the table, trying to get it done," he said.

MacFarlane was once seen as the white knight that would rescue Colt from obscurity and decay. Erecting impressive banners on the side of the South Armory facing Interstate 91, MacFarlane promised a future that would include apartments, retail and even a national historic park.

Colt crossed a significant hurdle last year when it won National Historic Landmark status, the first step toward possibly becoming a national park with strong backing from Rep. John Larson (D-CT). Even as those successes stacked up, however, the financial picture for HFAH continued to deteriorate.

Yet no one not the state, the city nor Larson seemed willing to publicly confront MacFarlane about the mess he had made of Colt. Funny the difference more than a million dollars in unpaid taxes makes.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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