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Some Wonder if Concord Hotel Resurrection Will Really Happen: Ambitious Plans Call for a Year-round, World-class Resort.

Barbara Gref
The Times Herald-Record
[email protected]
March 16, 2000

A red Mercedes convertible led the small motorcade of cars past the front gates of the cold, closed Concord Hotel yesterday afternoon. Louis R. Cappelli's mission at the Sullivan County Government Center was pretty simple: resurrection.

The Westchester real estate mogul and his partners broke the seal on a plan that would put a lot of dreamers to shame.

Cappelli and Reckson Associates said he's spending $500 million to bring back the largest of the old Catskill glory-day hotels.

He swears it's got nothing to do with gambling. And everything to do with 55 million people who live within a two-hour drive.

In the first phase of the plan, developers would spend $250 million to demolish and then rebuild a new 1,000-room hotel and convention center (the old Concord had 1,200 rooms). It would also mean construction of time shares, a riding center and golf center built around the resort's renowned 45 holes of golf. Ground breaking could be as soon as summer.

But Cappelli is no dreamer, he's a savvy businessman with the golf handicap to prove it (so he says). "This is not something that is pie in the sky," he said.

He points to recent achievements like his $190 million New Rock City development in New Rochelle.

He has wooed county and town officials over the last two to three months, showing plans, conducting helicopter tours of his other projects and talking up the Concord.

People who'll be giving approvals are impressed, and in the background, hesitant.

The names of Cappelli and Reckson Associates have surfaced in connection with a bid-rigging investigation. Some legislators are worried about that. But worry was not the word yesterday.

The partners bought the resort at a bankruptcy sale last year for what, in this world, amounts to a song: $10.25 million for a project that they will now sink 50 times that much into.

Financing goes like this: For phase one, the project needs $50 million in equity for a $200 million hotel. The Sullivan County IDA will take title to the property so that tax exempt bonds can be issued. The resort will make payments in lieu of taxes for the 30-year-period of the bonds.

The new Concord owners are also seeking the return of adjacent properties that were seized by the county in the tax sale. Negotiations continue on those. Legislators including Steve Kurlander don't want to see the properties go for next to nothing.

Legislator Chris Cunningham is also concerned that the county look out for its own interests in negotiations on tax breaks and other government assistance while still cooperating.

For some, to believe in the Concord is to believe in life after death. More than one resident yesterday said they've seen this all before - seen the list of dreams, seen the glossies on the drawing board, seen the promise. Yet, Leni Binder, a legislator from Fallsburg, the town next door with its share of dead or dying resorts, said she has faith.

"I've seen others ... these people are credible, they have the backing," she said. "They can put their money where their ideas are."

The question of credibility is not foreign.

"Skeptics are OK," said Seth Lipsay, a partner in Reckson. "Skeptics will be converted as you succeed."

Some might be inclined to believe Lipsay. He's got a Catskill credential: he came to the Concord nearly every year as a kid.