The feds have done it again. They've turned down the only bid they got in their latest effort to find somebody to take possession and clean up pollution at the vast, echoing complex of buildings known as the Stratford Army Engine Plant.
Seems like this is the result every time the federal government asks for bids on the 77-acre, 1.72-million-square-foot industrial dinosaur that once cranked out thousands of Sikorsky fighter aircraft and tank engines.
Another bid rejection means U.S. taxpayers will likely spend close to $2 million in the coming year to maintain and provide security for this moth-balled monster.
The plant was closed in 1998. The U.S. Army and the federal General Services Administration have been trying to unload the historic industrial beast ever since. So the cost of not finding a buyer is about approaching $34 million.
"It was turned down," Bob Hartmann, the Milford-based real estate developer who offered to take the plant off the hands of the federal government for $1.
Hartmann has dreamed of turning the former Sikorsky aircraft factory into a massive $1 billion destination resort with hotels, restaurants, and a waterfront "village" on the banks of the Housatonic River.
His $1 offer doesn't sound so wacky when you realize that cleaning up the industrial pollution on the site could cost as much as $200 million.
Hartmann and former state Sen. George L. "Doc" Gunther are furious at what they see as the Army's stubborn refusal to let the developer give it a try.
Gunther is the godfather of the Connecticut Air and Space Center, an aircraft restoration operation dedicated to preserving the history of Igor Sikorsky's aeronautical innovations. The center now has the use of three buildings at the complex. Federal officials insist they want whoever takes over the property to keep the museum effort there.
Patrick Sclafani, spokesman for the GSA in Boston, says federal officials plan "to revisit this [the future of the plant] after the first of the year … to determine the best direction to go with this whole property."
"The bid for the property was not accepted by the Federal Government based on the conditions and contingencies in the bid being inconsistent [with federal bid requirements]," Sclafani said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Hartmann accuses Army and GSA officials of refusing to sit down and talk about his proposal. He claims his investors are willing to put up at least $500 million in financing to launch the project. He wants to know when the feds would start the proposed clean-up of the polluted Housatonic tidal flats beside the plant, and maintains he couldn't get any answers.
There was a separate issue involving a two-city feud over the one acre the feds wanted to hold out to allow for expansion of Sikorsky Memorial Airport, which is in Stratford but owned by Bridgeport.
Hartmann insists Connecticut's congressional delegation has failed to help him get federal approval for a project that could eventually create 8,000 jobs.
"It's been 22 years they've been putting this out to bid," says Gunther. At age 96, he's run out of patience — something he was never particularly known for during his long legislative career.