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Blumenthal Seeks Colt Action

Wants Agency To Reconsider Denial Of Landmark Status For Complex

October 18, 2006
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal asked the National Parks Service Tuesday to reconsider a recommendation denying historic landmark status to the Colt Gateway complex in Hartford, saying the decision could have been "inadvertently tainted by illegality."

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez also weighed in on the controversy, writing a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of the Interior voicing his displeasure that the Colt Gateway bid had been turned back.

The two are the latest in a chorus of politicians to speak against the decision. Last week, Gov. M. Jodi Rell expressed "bitter disappointment," and members of the state's congressional delegation have condemned the decision by a committee of architects, historians, archaeologists and preservationists to reject the bid.

The decision, which can be appealed, now goes to the park service's advisory board, which will consider it and send a recommendation to the secretary of the interior.

As the committee considered granting the Colt complex historic landmark status, James Griffin, who opposes the Colt Gateway project to turn the complex into apartments, wrote a letter blasting the bid. The letter appears to include the signature of a board member - Anthony Autorino - who told The Courant he isn't a board member and that he did not sign anything.

Blumenthal asked in his letter that the landmarks program re-evaluate its conclusion if it considered Griffin's written comments while making its decision.

"My office is currently investigating a variety of charges against Mr. Griffin ... including allegations that Griffin signed Anthony Autorino's name to the letter received by the Landmarks committee without Mr. Autorino's knowledge or permission," Blumenthal wrote.

Blumenthal is also investigating whether Griffin's center - called the Sam and Elizabeth Colt Center for American Culture and Industrial Heritage - is violating state law concerning the governance of non-stock corporations, fundraising and charitable activities. "Taken alone, such questions concerning Mr. Griffin's credibility argue powerfully for review and reconsideration of your decision," Blumenthal said.

Officials at the landmarks program have said that as the Colt nomination moves through the process, new letters and newspaper accounts relevant to the nomination will be added to the package of materials officials will consider.

Griffin did not return a call seeking comment.

To get the landmark designation, a property must have proper historical documentation, historical significance and integrity, meaning the building must retain the physical elements that demonstrate its historical significance.

Griffin's issue with the Colt complex was the building's "integrity," because of the conversion to apartments, officials from the landmark program said. They said that issue would likely have come up under any circumstances.

Also Tuesday, Perez wrote a letter to Dirk Kempthorne, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, asking that he support the Colt complex's effort to get National Historic Landmark status. The committee that already rejected the project's bid was "mistaken in their assessment," Perez wrote. He described the Colt weapon production facility as "instrumental in the preservation of the Union during the Civil War, the 'winning' of the west and the preservation of America's liberties in two world wars."

"The Colt's Armory truly was an arsenal of democracy," Perez wrote.

The Colt Gateway project is a $115 million effort 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's developers sought national historic landmark status and has been working with the National Park Service to that end.

Griffin has been pushing to put a museum inside the Colt building for years. He wanted to put the museum inside the complex's East Armory, where apartments are planned, which put him at odds with the owner.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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