Meditate On This


Hartford Courant/January 28, 2004

If Hartford is to have the hotel space it needs to support the new convention center, the Clarion Hotel must be put back into service.

The hotel, built four decades ago as part of the Constitution Plaza project, was once an outstanding hostelry, known for meticulous service and an elegant restaurant, the Rib Room.

The hotel closed in 1994, just before it was sold for $1.5 million to a development company controlled by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the white-bearded guru who turned transcendental meditation into an estimated $5 billion international fortune.

The acquisition was part of a plan to buy hotels across the country and use them partly for lodging and partly as meditation and education centers where followers could immerse themselves in the guru's teachings on natural health, stress reduction and unified consciousness.

The realities of the hotel industry threw a wet blanket on these plans, leaving a trail of empty or underutilized hotels.

The hotel never reopened, and instead became a symbol of the city's difficulties. The fiasco left city officials in need of stress reduction.

But times have changed for the better. Constitution Plaza's location improved markedly with the announcement of the Adriaen's Landing project on an adjoining 33-acre parcel. The convention center is scheduled to open next year.

Also, the Plaza itself is coming back to life with new tenants, such as the University of Connecticut's business school, arriving later this year. And thanks to Riverfront Recapture, the Plaza has something it was always lacking, pedestrian access to the river.

The Clarion is in need of extensive, eight-figure renovation. But it's a precast concrete building that's structurally sound. Real estate experts say it would best be remodeled from 287 rooms to about 260 rooms.

After some years of transcontinental vegetation, the maharishi's developers are starting to move some of their hotel properties. The asking price for the Clarion was an unrealistic $14 million three years ago, but now it is down to $7 million, and that may be negotiable. The 397-room Hilton, also in need of thorough reconstruction and repair, sold for $6 million. As the price on the Clarion has come down, buyer interest has increased.

Perhaps Mayor Eddie Perez, the city's hotelier-in-chief, can dig up a buyer, as he did for the Hilton. After the loss of the Hastings Hotel and Conference Center, 260 new rooms would be a godsend.

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