Sunday, December 27, 2009

News From A Newport Wedding Planner...If your thinking of getting married at Astors' Beechwood Mansion. ... Think again!

By Ted Hayes

=NEWPORT — A lawsuit recently settled in Newport County Superior Court may herald the sale of the Astors’ Beechwood mansion at 580 Bellevue Ave., one of the City By The Sea’s most noted summer cottages. The sale price? $10.5 million, much less than the $16 million sought when the mansion first went on the market two years ago.

Read the October settlement that could herald the sale of the Astors' Beechwood mansion.

The settlement was filed in mid-October. Coupled with a purchase and sale agreement signed on Sept. 28 — which has not yet been consummated — it resolves a lawsuit filed against Robert Milligan, principal of Historic Beechwood LLC, and associated entities including Historic Newport LP. The suit was filed last year by the Madison Group Trust, whose principals and attorney, Laura J. Bottaro, alleged that Mr. Milligan failed to repay them more than $1.54 million, now over $2 million with interest, that they won in a previous, unrelated Connecticut lawsuit settled in their favor in 2004.

The case file is more than a foot thick, and details Madison Group’s attempts to establish that the opulent estate was owned by Mr. Milligan, not his associated entities. From the beginning, said Ms. Bottaro, “he had held himself out to be the owner and operator of Beechwood for years.”

Therefore, she said, “our theory is that we’re entitled to the equity of the mansion.”

If the purchase and sale agreement is ultimately consummated, the Madison Group will be paid $625,000, much less than the money Ms. Bottaro said it’s owed. Nevertheless, she said Thursday, the firm sought to recoup the money by going after Mr. Milligan’s equity in the mansion. If it had sold for more, she said, the Madison Group would have received a larger settlement.

“The original judgment was over $2 million with interest,” Ms. Bottaro said. “But of course, this is a settlement. If the mansion hadn’t sold, there was nothing for us to collect on. Once there was a possibility of a sale, that’s what prompted the settlement.”

The majority of the sale price, $8.76 million, would go to the primary mortgage holder, the Patriot Group LLC, according to court records. Of the balance, Historic Beechwood, LLC, would receive $495,000; a $420,000 commission would go to real estate commissions; taxes and legal fees would account for the remaining $200,000.

Ms. Bottaro would not say who has contracted to purchase the estate, and Mr. Milligan’s attorney, Keith B. Kyle, also declined to comment on that aspect of the case.

What’s next?

The privately owned mansion derives much of its income from weddings, tours, parties and other events, including Christmas with the Astors, which is now ongoing. As part of the settlement, Mr. Milligan’s Historic Beechwood LLC will be allowed full access to the five-acre property through Jan. 2, 2010, to complete operations and conduct its Christmas pageant. Historic Beechwood will also be given limited access to the property from Jan. 2 through August 5, 2010, to conduct 26 previously scheduled weddings.

If the purchase and sale agreement is not consummated, the settlement will remain in effect. However, if the Madison Group is not paid within 18 months, the group has the right to re-open the case.

About Beechwood

The mansion was first laid out in 1852 for New York dry goods merchant Daniel Parish. In 1881, the estate was purchased by Caroline “Lina” and William Backhouse Astor Jr., who hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to redesign the mansion. It sits on five acres of oceanfront property and has 15 bedrooms and eight baths.

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