The Largest Fire In New Haven CT History
(One John G Suggestion, Saved Millions)
Introduction (who I am): My name is Paul Denz, North Side Development Company is my company’s name. I’ve been in the real estate business for probably 25 years. Been in New Haven for a good portion of that time and my office is currently at 195 Church Street where we are right now. We own the building.
We’ve purchased, in the last couple of years, quite a few downtown New Haven properties. We own a significant portion of the downtown office building and development sites. We were all over the state however we’re building condominiums in Waterford right now. We own apartment buildings in the West Haven market. We’ve built shopping centers.
If it’s real estate, we’ve done it.
I met John probably around 2007. Unfortunately, we had a fire in one of our buildings downtown. It was a really large fire. It was probably one of the larger fires in downtown New Haven history.
John Giordano became valuable right from the beginning. Mr. Paul Denz
I think it is the largest fire in New Haven history. Certainly in modern times, it’s the largest fire in New Haven history.
We had some old buildings that we had been purchasing along the way to put together to do our development site.
It was the middle of the winter and one of my tenants, we believe, was doing some renovation in their space and they either cut a wire -- no one ever really knew but we knew about where it had started, we believe they were hanging some electrical on their own or they cut a wire while they were working on electrical – sparked a fire and a large, almost a full block of downtown New Haven buildings, burned almost to the ground.
Thank God nobody was hurt but after the fire trucks left, it was apparent that we were going to need some help with our insurance policy. We called a few adjusters. John had come recommended. I can’t remember who recommended him to me. He came recommended. We had a few discussions and I decided to hire him.
It’s almost the city block of old brownstone type buildings, so they were pretty combustible. They were all 100-year old buildings.
Q - What was the one suggestion that was worth millions?
Johns more familiar with dealing with the insurance companies than we are or were. He actually became valuable right from the beginning.
He had a videographer. Like day-2 of the fire and the videographer went up on the roof of one of the existing buildings that hadn’t been damaged and started videotaping the damage.
He took extensive video that helped a lot after we had cleared the site because immediately we had to go to work to clear the site.
The City of New Haven also, for whatever reason, decided they were going to be really uncooperative with us in settling the insurance claim and getting work done. So the City of New Haven actually came in and started clearing the site without our permission, and contrary to existing law, actually.
The videographer was able to document all of the work that the City did prior to us gaining access to the site. It was very invaluable. We never would have thought to hire someone to get all these pictures. I believe he did some videos and he did some time lapse photography, leaving equipment on the roof on time lapse as the work went on.
Interviewer: That’s really innovative. I wouldn’t have thought of that either.
With that process, you were able to document the damage that was existed.
Because once all that’s cleared, it’s gone and you just have to stop.
Paul Denz: Right, it’s gone. The City, there was some practices that we would not have used in clearing the site. I think we would have taken a more deliberate approach where they came in and just cleared it.
They ended up doing some environmental testing and we had done some prior environmental testing. Instead of separating contaminated material from non-contaminated material, they just bulked it all together and took it out as contaminated.
You paid by weight and we had documentation that they were taking large steel beams out, which are obviously not contaminated material, and charging us by weight for contaminated material. So when they handed me a bill for, I think, $42 million, we had documentation that they had really used some inappropriate methods of disposal.
The case ended up in court...
Without John having been there and having helped us along the way with documenting what was going on, we probably wouldn’t have been as victorious in court as we were.
Interviewer: The city wasn't helping you.
Paul Denz: No. It was worse than that. The City of New Haven at that point was trying to take the property. They actually had us in a meeting where they told us they were going to take the property which I don’t know how they could ever do that but they were going to take the property.
Then after that didn’t work, they asked me for a price and when I told them what the price was, they decided they weren’t going to buy it. They were going to just try to put us out of business.
Again, with John’s documentation, his connections with the insurance industry also helped because he actually helped us get some money early on to get some work done.
If we were on our own, we probably would have gone through the process, settle the law suit, and then a check would have come to us.
He actually got the insurance company to get us a start check so that we could get some work done
Interviewer: That cash flow must have been incredibly helpful.
Paul Denz: It was helpful. It actually saved the day in the beginning. When you’re looking at a large, large project and you need to get going immediately because the streets have been closed and we had to hire police and security and put up fencing, those funds were instrumental at that point.
I would say it probably took a month or two before the site had been completely excavated and refilled with new material and fencing put up, permanent fencing.
After that point, it took a while to settle the lawsuit. It actually took about a year-and-a-half to settle the lawsuit.
No, we didn’t immediately go into rebuilding. We cleaned up the buildings that we had that weren’t badly damaged. We took one of the buildings and converted it into apartments and retail stores and part of this site is still open for development today. It’s become a parking lot, a surface parking lot. Back then in 2007 and 2008, the local economy wasn’t very good, the economy wasn’t very good. We’re working our ways through planning and selling now to do a large development on one of the parcels.
It’s still an ongoing project. However, at least we have income coming in from the parking. It’s a stable property at this point. We could run up like that for a long time. But it’s highest and best use would be to redevelop it.
How did John maximize this claim?
- John worked with the insurance company.
- They took a look at our policy.
- They dissected our policy.
- They met with representatives from the insurance company.
- I think he maximized the value of the policy.
We came to find out it wasn’t the best policy in the world. Typically, you’re buying properties. You ask your agent for a policy. You’re looking at price. They give you a good price, you buy it. Well, it turns out when you needed it, maybe you should have paid a little but more and gotten a little more coverage. But I think John maximized the coverage that we ended settling for.
John worked hard on this. He was innovative. The company was responsive. It took a long time. They kept focused on it. Yes, I think I recommended him to a number of people over the years and yes, I would use him again.Mr. Paul Denz
Anything else you would like to share with me that I haven’t asked?
I think John is an upstanding member of the community. He lives in Branford. He’s been there for quite a while. There are only, I believe, three or four adjusters in the New Haven area. He’s got a great business.
He’s been working hard at it for a long time. He’s got a great reputation. Whenever anyone is looking for an adjuster, his name comes up. I think they know their business.
He’s great at what he does and I think he does a great job for his clients.