At first glance, there's no question the building has had a fresh coat of paint. There's also new carpet and ceiling tiles and a renovated elevator. Those are just some of the renovations made at 95 Park Street in Hartford over the last year. The Troubleshooters took a tour of the building hoping to see some of the improvements made with the $500,000 the Spanish American Merchants Association, or SAMA, landed in what some residents call a pretty sweet real estate deal with the city.
"The elevator had a face lift. As you can see the top of it, the ceiling, walls, and floor were renovated," said Marisol Monserrate, a small business specialist with SAMA.
It was back in 2011 that the City of Hartford agreed to sell 95 Park Street to SAMA for just $1.00. SAMA turned around the same day and sold a piece of the backyard to Hartford Hospital for $500,000. It was land, the hospital needed to build its new parking garage.
According to the city council resolution approving the sale, the $500,000 was supposed to be used specifically for renovations and repairs to the building. But the Troubleshooters found $32,000 of it is sitting in an escrow account for back rent SAMA owed the city for a parking lot that sits across the street. SAMA, though, is disputing that it owes the city that rent and may take Hartford to court over it.
There was also supposed to be regular accounting of the funds, including any expenditures. But the Troubleshooters have learned there was very little oversight and accounting until our original story aired. Since that time, there's been a flurry of activity by city departments checking up on SAMA and its renovations. Most recently, the department of License and Inspection sent SAMA a letter putting them on notice that work on the building may have been performed without permits or inspections.
City inspectors are now scheduled to visit SAMA early next week.
The Troubleshooters also have a more detailed accounting of the money that's been spent since the sale. According to a ledger provided to the city in the last 2 days, SAMA spent $48,645 on a new roof, $69,354.45 in elevator upgrades, nearly $24,000 in ceiling repairs, $11,327 in rugs and tile, $9,181 in paint, $2,611.65 in hardware, and $3,135 for heating repairs. The total amount is $167,939.10. The Troubleshooters were told a new A/C and heating system is on the way as well. But, no actual receipts have been provided for the work, despite repeated requests from the Troubleshooters.
SAMA says it's because the city hasn't asked.
"If we don't have to give that information to the city, than it's not public information," said Sydney Schulmann who is SAMA's attorney.
The Troubleshooters also took a closer look at SAMA's lease with the city and found a section called "Tenant Improvements." It requires SAMA to make $200,000 worth of renovations and improvements to the building within 18 months from the commencement of this lease in 1978. The trade-off was that SAMA was leasing the building for just $1.00 a year. SAMA's attorney has no recollection of any substantial renovations done prior to the $500,000 sale.
"I didn't do that lease, so I have no clue," said Schulmann.
The city didn't provide any documentation showing that any work was ever done either.
The Mayor's office released this statement to NBC Connecticut saying, "The purpose of the sale was to provide SAMA with a long term hone in the neighborhood, provide the means to get the building repaired, and make room for the garage."
It's a deal some residents feel would certainly bring in plenty of business to the Capitol city in the future.