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UConn Responds to Town Manager's Letter about West Hartford Campus

New signage at the entrance to the UConn parking lot on Trout Brook Drive indicate that visitors need to 'pay by phone' to park. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Town Manager Ron Van Winkle sent a letter to University of Connecticut General Counsel Richard Orr on Monday regarding purchase of the West Hartford campus.

New signage at the entrance to the UConn parking lot on Trout Brook Drive indicate that visitors need to 'pay by phone' to park. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

In a letter dated Feb. 27, 2017, Town Manager Ron Van Winkle officially notified UConn Vice President and General Counsel Richard Orr that West Hartford will not meet the March 13, 2017, due diligence date, requested an extension until two weeks after the state passes its budget, and suggested that the University might want to solicit other buyers.

Orr’s response came in a letter dated March 2, 2017, a copy of which was obtained from UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz on Thursday night. In that letter, Orr informed the town manager that although the University of Connecticut is willing to extend the due diligence date, it will only grant an extension through May 1, 2017.

“This will give the Town a chance to evaluate the purchase of the property in the context of the Town’s budget process,” Orr wrote in the letter. West Hartford is scheduled to adopt its budget on April 25.

“This may not be the time for the town to purchase the UConn property,” Van Winkle said at Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting. He said he wasn’t sure that the town, now facing significant cuts in state funding, would ever be able to close on the property.

In addition to the $5 million purchase price for the 58-acre property, Van Winkle said that studies done by a town-hired consultant indicate that the cost of demolishing the buildings on the campus could be $5 million, plus another $500,000 for soil remediation.

In his letter, Orr outlined the timeline during which the University of Connecticut and the Town of West Hartford have held “constructive conversations” about the property, beginning on June 3, 2014, when UConn’s Board of Trustees voted to close the West Hartford campus and move to a downtown Hartford location. Two extensions of the due diligence date have already been granted, with the most recent deadline being March 13, 2017, Orr stated.

“UConn has accommodated all of the Town’s previous requests for extensions because we understand the importance of the property to the Town and we believe that Town ownership is the best result for everyone,” Orr stated. “But UConn cannot let the process go on indefinitely,” he added, and the state’s budget difficulties may extend the legislative session into the summer or fall. The ultimate impact of the state’s budget on West Hartford’s financial condition is unknown, he wrote.

Orr said in his letter that the University will move out of the West Hartford location in May, following the end of the spring semester, and plans to move to Hartford in time for the fall semester. “It is not in anyone’s interest to have the property stand vacant for months or years,” he stated.

UConn has not been actively marketing the property for the past three years because of West Hartford’s expressed interest in it, Orr said in the letter, but now will plan to seek other buyers. The process of seeking other buyers would be difficult while West Hartford is still under contract to purchase the property, Orr added.

Orr said in his letter that if West Hartford doesn’t act to purchase the property by May 1, “the contract will lapse and UConn will market the property to buyers based on the financial benefit to UConn.” At the end of the due diligence phase, West Hartford is required to pay UConn $750,000.

It is UConn’s opinion, Orr stated, that West Hartford no longer has the right to purchase the property should UConn find another buyer as the town did when Weiming made its offer in March 2016. “The contract to purchase for $5 million will lapse May 1, 2017, unless the Town acts before that time,” Orr’s letter states.

In his letter, Orr also noted that UConn has already faced in excess of $135 million in funding cuts over the past eight years, and the governor’s most recent budget proposes another $41 million in cuts. Because of that, “UConn will likely not have the financial resources necessary to maintain the West Hartford campus property as we would have in the past,” he stated. Fencing the property for security purposes might be necessitated, but the baseball fields would not be impacted, he added.

Orr stated that UConn will begin marketing the property “in the meantime” while awaiting West Hartford’s response and action on the contract.

Van Winkle could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

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