Dec 25, 2006

A Guru And A Vacant Hotel With 1 Building Empty, Concern Over Another 

Hartford Courant
December 25, 2006
Kenneth R. Gosselin

At its opening, the hotel on Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford was described as almost too luxurious for the city.

Today, its owner is marketing the vacant, decaying structure as worth $10 million - but there are no takers. Hartford's mayor says the building should be torn down.

The 12-story hotel, empty for a dozen years, has been a troubling obstacle for those who see the building as part of a crucial gateway to the city. The sale price set by the Maharishi School of Vedic Sciences Inc., its owner since 1995, has been too high to make any redevelopment, hotel or otherwise, financially possible, observers say.

And now, as WFSB, Channel 3, next door on the plaza prepares to sell its studios - known as Broadcast House - and move to the suburbs, there is the concern that yet another building in the same high-visibility location could go dark.

The two buildings - or at least the land they occupy - are seen as vital to enhancing riverfront development around Columbus Boulevard. With both buildings vacant, visitors entering the city would be greeted with an even more desolate streetscape at the end of the Founders Bridge.

Mayor Eddie A. Perez said he probably will propose a redevelopment zone encompassing the two buildings. Rezoning the property would allow the city to work with whoever buys the WFSB building - and it would give the city the option of acquiring the hotel by eminent domain, a highly controversial practice.

In the hotel's place, Perez envisions a 15-story residential tower, either apartments or condominiums. He's not bothered by slow condo sales and apartment rentals at new downtown residential developments. He said that momentum will build, and that any construction on Constitution Plaza would be a few years away anyway.

Demolition of the 42-year-old hotel figures prominently in those plans and development could include the Broadcast House property - just yards away.

Although Perez would prefer that private developers take the lead, he said the city may have no choice but to take over the hotel site. The city would then seek development proposals.

"There is the real unpredictability of the owner's desire to sell," Perez said. "You're not dealing with a traditional real estate investor."

`Impossible To Deal With'

The hotel - most recently a Clarion - was bought for $1.5 million by the school for transcendental meditation, founded by the guru to the Beatles. Now on the market for $10 million, according to a listing on the Internet, the price breaks down to about $50 a square foot for the 200,000-square-foot structure.

Similar vacant buildings in the central business district might sell for about $20 a square foot, according to local architects and commercial real estate brokers.

Based on that average, the old hotel should be priced closer to $4 million.

Doors along the plaza level of the building are chained shut. Some graffiti - "SANTA IS REAL," for instance - was evident last week, but the structure appears to be intact. The ravages of time can be seen through the windows: Wallboard is crumbling and radiator covers are falling off.

And now, when the plaza is host to the Festival of Lights, the hotel is a dark, hulking presence.

Developers have made several attempts to acquire the hotel, which opened in 1964 as the Hotel America, and was later a Sonesta, then a Summit. Deals collapsed over the asking price for the property, which has bounced between $5 and $17 million, according to city officials.

"The Maharishi is impossible to deal with," said David Ong, president of Acquest Realty Advisors Inc., of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which wanted to resurrect the building as a hotel in 2000. "We were never able to make a deal that made economic sense."

"At the end of the day," Ong said, "they are land speculators."

A representative of the Maharishi did not return several calls seeking comment.

The Maharishi may be holding out for rising commercial real estate values in downtown Hartford, but the building is increasingly standing out as a gaping hole in an area that has been abuzz with redevelopment.

The air is filled with the sound of construction nearby. Cranes strain under the weight of steel structural beams at the science center site across Columbus Boulevard. And, to the west, workers swing hammers as student housing and apartments rise at the old Sage-Allen department store site.

Ong, who studied the hotel extensively, said the structure would require a gutting if it were to remain a hotel, particularly because the rooms are much smaller than those today.

The renovation of older buildings, particularly vacant ones, are more expensive than simply erecting a new structure. That's why getting the lowest sales price is key to making the projects work financially.

Architect Anthony Amenta, of Amenta/Emma in Hartford, said sellers "practically [would] have to give the building away" for a project to be viable.

The city saw that earlier this year, when two real estate partners paid $7 million for the historic Connecticut Mutual headquarters in Asylum Hill in Hartford, well below the original $13 million asking price. That 11.2-acre facility features 450,000 square feet of office space and a 662-space parking garage. The developers plan to spend up to $30 million on that property.

Some say the hotel site on Constitution Plaza has potential for use as a hotel or perhaps as a hotel combined with condominiums. The latter arrangement is gaining high-profile popularity in larger cities such as New York, where the famed Plaza Hotel is undergoing such a makeover.

Two Key Parcels

Perez said he believes a fresh start at the hotel site, however, would benefit the riverfront area, and views from residential units to the river would be "spectacular."

Demolition would cost about $2 million and would include removing asbestos believed to be in the building, Amenta said. Without the building, the land - less than an acre - could be worth between $1.5 and $2 million, according to Cushman & Wakefield of Connecticut, the commercial real estate firm.

The city also views Broadcast House as just as key as the hotel, particularly since it is at the corner of Columbus Boulevard and State Street. The city had sought to acquire the property when it was negotiating to keep the television station in downtown Hartford.

The city would have gained control of Broadcast House, essentially swapping it for a city-owned parcel near Main and Trumbull, where WFSB had considered building a new facility.

WFSB, a CBS affiliate, decided to build a new facility in Rocky Hill, which is expected to be ready in late spring or early fall.

The station now has a contract with a prospective buyer, and expects to know in early January if the sale will go through. If that doesn't happen, the station's general manager said WFSB would consider restarting talks with the city.

"We would absolutely consider it, with them or anyone else," station general manager Klarn DePalma said.

The city would be very receptive to those discussions, said John Palmieri, the city's director of development services.

The success of redevelopment efforts involving Broadcast House and the hotel are critical not only to the riverfront but to Constitution Plaza itself, which is starting to put behind it a legacy of failed 1960s urban renewal, observers say.

The two prominent office towers on the plaza have been renovated by owner Capital Properties of New York. One tower - One Constitution Plaza - is now 90 percent leased, and the other - 100 Constitution Plaza - is 65 percent leased, with a major tenant, the insurer XL America, according to Cushman & Wakefield broker Jonathan K. Putnam, the leasing agent.

A restaurant - Spris - has been open for six years.

If hurdles over the sale of the hotel could be cleared, Ong said, he would still be interested in the site.

"I'd be back in a heartbeat," he said. "It's a marvelous location."

Oct 12, 2006

B.C. girl felt 'flattered' by teacher's advances

Rod Mickleburgh 
Globe and Mail (Canada)
October 12, 2006 

VANCOUVER -- They were young, lonely girls, and when their tall, good-looking high-school teacher told them they were special, they believed him.

Yesterday, a rapt courtroom heard how their teenaged infatuations propelled them into a web of sexual encounters with the teacher, Tom Ellison, who is facing 16 sex-related charges involving 12 of his former students in the 1970s and early 1980s. 

The two middle-aged women, whose identities were protected by a court-ordered publication ban, recounted how they made frequent trips to Mr. Ellison's live-aboard sailboat in Vancouver, where various forms of sexual contact took place. 

One testified that she was 14 when Mr. Ellison began making physical advances to her on his boat by massaging her breasts after a long night of drinking wine. 

During subsequent trysts, she said, "he put his hands all over me [and] in my pants," often lying on top of her, rubbing his penis to ejaculation, although they always stopped short of sexual intercourse. 

"I was nervous and I felt squeamish. But I really wanted him to love me, and when he did that, I really felt he loved me." 

Mr. Ellison, her Grade 9 science teacher, gave her a pet nickname. "I was his tomato," she said. 

The second witness was 17 at the time she became sexually entangled with Mr. Ellison, regularly visiting him on his sailboat, the Nostradamus, throughout her final year at Prince of Wales Secondary School. 

"He said he was preparing me for my sexual future with other partners," she told the court. 

Mr. Ellison, 63, is charged with 12 counts of gross indecency, three counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault. 

All but one of the 12 complainants met Mr. Ellison while they were students and he was the senior teacher in a groundbreaking outdoors program at Prince of Wales called Quest. 

The second witness said her initial sexual contact with Mr. Ellison occurred during a 10-day, co-ed summer sailing trip with seven other Questers. 

One night, she slept beside him in the bow of the ship. She agreed to a massage, complying with Mr. Ellison's suggestion that it would be better if her clothes were off. 

"Somewhere along the line, he whispered in my ear that it would also be better if I rolled over on my back. So I did. At that point, he massaged my breasts. . . . Then he used his mouth to suck on my nipples." 

Matters went further during the school year. There was oral sex. Mr. Ellison digitally penetrated her vagina numerous times, "and often he had a vibrator he used all over my body," she testified. 

Asked by prosecutor Ralph Keefer why she agreed to meet Mr. Ellison for sex, the woman replied: "I had a crush on him the whole year. I was flattered by the attention. 

"I was a quite shy and naive 17-year-old. All the girls were in love with him, and I felt very special." 

Finally, just before she turned 18, she decided to end her relationship with Mr. Ellison. He did not object. 

"I felt I was not living a normal Grade 12 life," the woman said, sobbing quietly and pausing to collect her thoughts. "I felt ostracized by my friends, and it was something I had done. 

"Someone asked me out. I really wanted to go, but I supposed I shouldn't [because of Mr. Ellison]. I couldn't go on a date with a boy my age," the woman said, as Mr. Ellison looked down, his hands clasped under his chin. 

Only years later, she said, did she learn that there were many other girls "special" to Mr. Ellison. In 1993, she went to the police. 

After that, she said she received an angry telephone call from her former teacher, "who told me that he thought we had something special. I was 34 then. It sounded like a lie to me, but when I was 17, it would have been very flattering." 

Answering questions from defence lawyer Bill Smart, the woman agreed that she was "a willing participant" in her sexual activities with Mr. Ellison. 

Asked whether she was "sexually excited" by them, she replied: "I assume I was." 

"You looked forward to those visits?" Mr. Smart questioned. 

"Yes, I did," she said. 

Mr. Ellison has admitted that his behaviour was wrong and unprofessional, but not criminal under laws existing at the time. 

The first witness recalled that Mr. Ellison would tell her she was beautiful, superior to all the other kids and much more mature than they were. 

"I was obsessed [with him]. A mixed-up, lonely little girl," she said. 

She said Mr. Ellison gave her an A in the Grade 9 science course she took from him. "The next year, I got a C." 

During subsequent trysts, she said, "he put his hands all over me [and] in my pants," often lying on top of her, rubbing his penis to ejaculation, although they always stopped short of sexual intercourse. 

"I was nervous and I felt squeamish. But I really wanted him to love me, and when he did that, I really felt he loved me." 

Mr. Ellison, her Grade 9 science teacher, gave her a pet nickname. "I was his tomato," she said. 

The second witness was 17 at the time she became sexually entangled with Mr. Ellison, regularly visiting him on his sailboat, the Nostradamus, throughout her final year at Prince of Wales Secondary School. 

"He said he was preparing me for my sexual future with other partners," she told the court. 

Mr. Ellison, 63, is charged with 12 counts of gross indecency, three counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault. 

All but one of the 12 complainants met Mr. Ellison while they were students and he was the senior teacher in a groundbreaking outdoors program at Prince of Wales called Quest. 

The second witness said her initial sexual contact with Mr. Ellison occurred during a 10-day, co-ed summer sailing trip with seven other Questers. 

One night, she slept beside him in the bow of the ship. She agreed to a massage, complying with Mr. Ellison's suggestion that it would be better if her clothes were off. 

"Somewhere along the line, he whispered in my ear that it would also be better if I rolled over on my back. So I did. At that point, he massaged my breasts. . . . Then he used his mouth to suck on my nipples." 

Matters went further during the school year. There was oral sex. Mr. Ellison digitally penetrated her vagina numerous times, "and often he had a vibrator he used all over my body," she testified. 

Asked by prosecutor Ralph Keefer why she agreed to meet Mr. Ellison for sex, the woman replied: "I had a crush on him the whole year. I was flattered by the attention. 

"I was a quite shy and naive 17-year-old. All the girls were in love with him, and I felt very special." 

Finally, just before she turned 18, she decided to end her relationship with Mr. Ellison. He did not object. 


"I felt I was not living a normal Grade 12 life," the woman said, sobbing quietly and pausing to collect her thoughts. "I felt ostracized by my friends, and it was something I had done. 

"Someone asked me out. I really wanted to go, but I supposed I shouldn't [because of Mr. Ellison]. I couldn't go on a date with a boy my age," the woman said, as Mr. Ellison looked down, his hands clasped under his chin. 

Only years later, she said, did she learn that there were many other girls "special" to Mr. Ellison. In 1993, she went to the police. 

After that, she said she received an angry telephone call from her former teacher, "who told me that he thought we had something special. I was 34 then. It sounded like a lie to me, but when I was 17, it would have been very flattering." 

Answering questions from defence lawyer Bill Smart, the woman agreed that she was "a willing participant" in her sexual activities with Mr. Ellison. 

Asked whether she was "sexually excited" by them, she replied: "I assume I was." 

"You looked forward to those visits?" Mr. Smart questioned. 

"Yes, I did," she said. 

Mr. Ellison has admitted that his behaviour was wrong and unprofessional, but not criminal under laws existing at the time. 

The first witness recalled that Mr. Ellison would tell her she was beautiful, superior to all the other kids and much more mature than they were. 

"I was obsessed [with him]. A mixed-up, lonely little girl," she said. 

She said Mr. Ellison gave her an A in the Grade 9 science course she took from him. "The next year, I got a C." 


http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20061012.BCQUEST12/TPStory/?query=Tom+and+Ellison 

Jun 9, 2006

Asia-Pacific islands seek warmer ties



Jean Lin
Taipei Times

June 9, 2006

REGIONAL MEETING: Twenty-two countries are taking part in the Asia-Pacific Island Nations Summit, discussing issues such as peace-building

The second Asia-Pacific Island Nations Summit was launched yesterday in Taipei with the aim of strengthening cooperation between island countries, especially in light of pressure from "major powers" in the region.

The conference is being held by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), a non-governmental organization (NGO) with special consultative status to the UN's Economic and Social Council.

The group aims to resolve conflicts and promote international peace.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who is also chairman of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, a sponsor of the event, said during a keynote speech that the Asia-Pacific region was well-known for its rapid economic development, which has influenced the world.

However, with Taiwan's cross-strait issues and North Korea's nuclear threat, the stability of the region, as well as world peace, is deeply affected, Wang said.

"The government must incorporate NGOs, religious groups and other sources of civic power to achieve the goal of world peace," he said.

Johnson Toribiong, Palau's ambassador to Taiwan, said that Asia-Pacific island nations had many things in common, including having lived through World War II and colonization, and therefore understand the importance of regional peace.

"We must encourage and promote mutual understanding of our island nations through education and international conferences," Toribiong said. "Ignorance creates conflicts."

Thomas Walsh, the secretary-general of UPF International, said that NGOs have an advantage in promoting peace since they can take action more quickly than governments, which are bogged down by bureaucracy.

Chen Tou-huan, the secretary-general of UPF Taiwan said that Asia-Pacific island nations play an important role in the world, and the goal of the summit was to increase cooperation and establish peace and stability in the region.

Some powerful countries in the region care only about their own interests, creating instability for the whole area, Chen said.

Lily Lin, vice-president of the Women's Federation for World Peace Taiwan, said that China had been trying to penetrate and influence island nations in the area.

Taiwan, Japan and other countries must build strong relations to fight such a power, Lin said.

China should not be an enemy to the US, the other major power in the region, said Mark Barry, director of the Northeast Asia Peace Initiative.

"US policies should guide China to become a responsible major power and not just a self-interested country," Barry said.

Some of the issues to be discussed at the summit are interreligious cooperation, reconciliation and peace-building, as well as how to strengthen the community of Asia-Pacific island nations. Twenty-two nations are participating in the summit, which ends today.


http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2006/06/09/2003312455