Mystic — Ross Weingarten, a Plainfield shed-maker who builds small homes for veterans, signed a contract Saturday for the purchase of the Spicer Mansion, having bid $3.52 million for the boutique hotel during a public foreclosure sale.
Weingarten declined to give his name as he and another man accompanying him headed for cover after the auction, which took place during a chilly drizzle on the Elm Street sidewalk in front of the hotel.
Inside the hotel’s eight guest rooms, lights were shining.
Weingarten, owner of Sawyer Sheds in Plainfield’s Central Village section, recently partnered with the Spicer Mansion’s current owner, Brian Gates, who operates an online travel agency that supports veterans’ causes.
Gates, reached by phone at the hotel several hours after the noontime auction, confirmed that Weingarten is involved in building “tiny” houses for veterans in need of a place to stay and wants to develop a community of such dwellings. Gates’ Bookwell Travel, which Gates said he launched earlier this year, has sought contributions on behalf of the effort.
“Our goal in 2022 is to deliver 500 million meals and 1,000 tiny homes to veterans in need,” the Bookwell Travel website says.
Gates said Spicer Mansion would continue to operate as a boutique hotel in the “spirit and history of Captain Spicer,” a reference to the property’s namesake.
According to the Sawyer Sheds website, Weingarten grew up in a Wisconsin Amish community where he learned “tradition and values” of shed-building.
Sawyer Sheds is a tenant of 32-44 Norwich Road in Central Village, a strip shopping center owned by Swede LLC, whose co-owner’s Stonington address is Gates’ residence. In a lawsuit filed last May, Plainfield’s zoning enforcement officer, Ryan Brais, alleged Weingarten and Swede had violated the terms of zoning approvals for the development of apartments and other uses of the property.
In December, Brais sought a temporary restraining order against Swede and Weingarten.
Four bidders, including Chelsea Groton Bank, which had sued Gates Realty over an unpaid mortgage loan, claiming Gates Realty owed nearly $1.8 million, took part in Saturday’s auction of the Spicer Mansion.
Chelsea Groton started the bidding with a $2,053,000 offer.
Walter “Sonny” Glaser Jr., owner of the Steamboat Inn and other Mystic properties, offered $2.1 million, which Mystic businessman Tim Owens, who owns the Pizzetta restaurant in Mystic and in 2015 bought the former Norwich Bulletin buildings on Franklin Street in downtown Norwich , upgraded to $2.2 million.
Glaser then went to $2.3 million before Weingarten’s $3.52 million bid ended the back-and-forth.
Aimee Siefert, the attorney appointed by New London Superior Court to conduct the auction, said she will move that the court approve the sale to Weingarten, who would have 30 days to complete the deal. Siefert could not say whether the sale price would be enough to satisfy all creditors with claims on the property, including holders of subordinate mortgages on Gates’ residence and other properties he owns in Plainfield and Putnam.
Weingarten, Glaser and Owens presented certified checks for $367,000 prior to the bidding, as required. In agreeing to the foreclosure sale, Chelsea Groton and Gates Realty had settled on a $3.67 million valuation of the hotel.
The foreclosure sale, originally scheduled for Jan. 29, had been postponed amid predictions of a severe winter storm and Gates Realty’s assertion that it had secured a verbal agreement from a prospective buyer willing to pay $3,825,000 for the property. The prospective buyer, identified in court papers as “Spicer Mansion of Mystic LLC,” was Glaser.
After the auction, Glaser said Gates inexplicably stopped talking to him before a deal could be finalized. Glaser said it appeared Gates would have been better off if he had accepted Glaser’s offer rather than have the auction proceed.
Gates purchased the Spicer Mansion in 2013 along with his wife, Ulrika, and their sons, Tomas and Eric, paying $750,000 for what was then an apartment house. Gates has said he invested more than $4 million restoring and maintaining the property. Built in 1853, it was once the home of Captain Elihu Spicer, a Noank native who built the Mystic & Noank Library across the street from the mansion.
In 2018, the town of Groton sued Gates, alleging Spicer Mansion was violating zoning regulations by operating a restaurant and a basement bar open to people who were not renting rooms at the hotel and hosting outdoor events. The town levied $12,500 in fines.