The End of an Eminent Domain Error: Pfizer Closes in New London

In 2001, Pfizer, Inc., moved to New London, Conn., as part of a project that involved massive corporate welfare and led to the abuse of eminent domain, culminating in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Kelo v. City of New London. This past November, however, Pfizer announced it will close its New London research and development headquarters. This marks the end of an eminent domain error.

New London created a redevelopment plan that gave land to Pfizer at a nominal cost and provided free environmental cleanup to the site. The plan also called for redevelopment of an area called Fort Trumbull, a working-class neighborhood adjacent to the Pfizer headquarters. It housed approximately 70 to 80 homes, as well as a few small businesses and an abandoned Navy base. The plan called for this area to be replaced by an upscale hotel, office buildings and new housing. This redeveloped area would “complement” the new Pfizer facility, leading to increased taxes and job growth for New London—or so the city promised. The state agreed to provide $78 million for the project. Pfizer received an 80 percent tax abatement for 10 years.

Keep in mind, when the five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against our clients—holding that taking property for “economic development” does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Takings Clause—the justices stressed that there was a plan in place, and that so long as lawmakers who looked to use eminent domain for someone’s private gain had a plan, the courts would wash their hands. Now, nearly five years after the redevelopment scheme passed constitutional muster, the plant that was the magnet for the development is closing its doors just as its tax abatements expire. The very land where Susette Kelo’s home once stood remains barren—home to nothing but feral cats, seagulls and weeds.

For years, the disastrous Fort Trumbull project will be Exhibit A in demonstrating the folly of government plans that involve corporate welfare and abuse eminent domain for private development. Hopefully, city officials, planners and developers will take the Fort Trumbull experience to heart and pursue revitalization efforts only through voluntary, not coercive, means. Until they do, IJ will stand with property owners nationwide to fight for what is rightfully theirs.

Scott Bullock is an IJ senior attorney.

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