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The Maharishi's Empty Hotel

Daniel D'Ambrosio

March 12, 2009

The clock is finally ticking for Hartford's 1960s-era Clarion Hotel, the 12-story eyesore in spooling white concrete worthy of an Eastern Bloc nation that sits in the way of hoped-for redevelopment of Constitution Plaza downtown.

With the passage by the City Council in January of an urban renewal plan for the plaza, the building's long-time owner, the Maharishi Global Development Fund of Fairfield, Iowa, has been put on notice that the city has begun the process to take over the hulking 12-story hotel through eminent domain.

"It's at least a two-year process when you begin today," David B. Panagore, director of the city's Development Services Department, said last week. "With that said, that does allow for redevelopment by the owner during that time frame."

Good luck with that one.

The multi-billion dollar global empire of the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi yes, guru to the Beatles snatched up the abandoned hotel for $1.5 million in 1994 with promises of restoring it as a place to stay on Constitution Plaza, or perhaps remaking it into a Maharishi Vedic University, where students of transcendental meditation, which the Maharishi originated, could come to study.

Instead, exactly nothing happened for the past 15 years, resulting in the haggard, water-damaged wreck that today sits astride Kinsley Street on Columbus Boulevard. Hartford City Assessor Larry LaBarbera recently toured the inside of the building, with flashlights since there's no electricity, and describes it as "totally devastated."

"There's water damage everywhere, the rooms are very small, totally gutted and made of concrete," LaBarbera said. "It's built like a bunker."

LaBarbera's tour was part of an appeal made by the Global Development Fund to reduce the assessed value of the property, and along with it, the taxes. From 2004 to 2007 the total value hovered around $7.3 million, but was dropped to $2.75 million last year as a result of the successful appeal.

With more than a 60 percent reduction in the building's value, the taxes dropped from nearly $400,000 annually to about $225,000, leaving the Global Development Fund with a $73,461 tax credit on the books. City Tax Collector Marc Nelson says the credit will most likely be applied to future tax bills. He won't be sending a refund check to Iowa.

A call from the Advocate last week to the Maharishi Global Development Fund, which listed assets in fiscal year 2006 of $192.3 million and income of $51.4 million was taken by answering machine but not returned.

When he died on Feb. 5, 2008, at his home base in Vlodrop, the Netherlands, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was believed to be in his 90s. He had first gained notoriety beginning in 1957 with his creation of transcendental meditation, a method of deep relaxation to eliminate stress and promote health. His popularity peaked with his involvement with the Beatles in the late 1960s, but he later refused to discuss his association with them.

Meanwhile, the Maharishi's global network of TM schools, real estate investments and even a new town Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa, near Fairfield continued to grow. But there were other instances when, as in Hartford, things did not turn out the way they were supposed to.

In 2003, the MGDF abandoned plans to build a mixed-use development on about 300 acres in The Colony, Texas, that would have included the world's tallest skyscraper, according to the Dallas Morning News.

In Chicago, the Maharishi scooped up the historic Blackstone Hotel, only to let it sit vacant for five years before selling it in 2004 to a Denver-based development company that restored it to its former glory and opened it as a Marriott Hotel.

Panagore, of the Development Services Department, is counting on a project announced last December for the building adjacent to the Clarion a 12-story, $40 million office tower to be built by Middletown's AI Engineering where the old Broadcast House now sits to carry the long-suffering hotel along with it.

"AI Engineering is very encouraged in terms of the progress they're making on their building," said Panagore. "What will happen to the Clarion Hotel site is going to be strongly driven by the success of what occurs on the Broadcast House side."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
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