Saturday, February 28, 2015

Investors' plans ruined by flood

They had hoped to restore a historic club.

Watson International Inc., named after the father and son who built IBM into a computer giant, had big plans for the company's former corporate country club-resort, on the edge of 600 acres of a nature preserve and a golf course in Upstate New York.

But those dreams - dashed by a flood in June - ended in violence Monday night after a disgruntled investor shot some of his partners before turning the gun on himself.

Police say Vincent Dortch, 44, of Newark, Del., may have invested $200,000 to refurbish the former country club. Dortch, they said, arranged a meeting with the victims, brothers Robert and Mark Norris, and James Reif, a friend from their hometown of Endicott, N.Y., at Mark Norris' Web design agency, Zigzag Net Inc., in the Navy Yard.

On Jan. 18, 2006, the Norris brothers, Reif and other investors, doing business as Watson International Inc., bought a 9.4-acre chunk of the International Business Machines Corp. complex for $1.325 million. The parcel included IBM's main corporate country club building on Watson Boulevard in Union, N.Y. IBM was founded in nearby Endicott and was led for years by Thomas J. Watson Sr. and his son, Thomas Jr.

The sellers were also two brothers, James and Bill Walsh, owners of Walsh & Sons Construction Corp. in nearby Vestal. Doing business as Homestead Village Development Corp., they bought the 650-acre IBM complex in August 2004 and are developing it.

Soon after they bought it, the Watson International group, with headquarters in Delaware, paid a get-acquainted visit to Joseph M. Moody, director of economic development for the Town of Union, which includes the IBM tract.

"Originally, it was going to be a mixed-use commercial facility, with entertainment venues," Moody said. "They were really bringing it back to what it used to be."

What it used to be was the social center of the region - an elegant setting for proms and weddings. The property included two large swimming pools and a gymnasium.

No plans were filed, nor were any building permits requested, Moody said.

Mark Norris' company designed a Web site promoting the property. Vasantha Dammavalam, an investor in Watson International, was listed on Zigzag's Web site as vice president for technology and was among those who visited Moody last year. He was not at the Navy Yard office Monday.

Whatever plans the Watson partners had for the New York country club were washed away in a flood on June 26 that rendered hundreds homeless and caused extensive damage to the building, which was at the bottom of a hill.

Moody said he heard that Watson might have received some insurance compensation, but he did not know how much or from whom. Neither did the partners' attorney, Dorian Ames of Binghamton, who declined to talk about the company.

Moody said he received a call from a property manager a few months after the flood assuring him that the project would proceed. That property manager could not immediately be reached for comment.

Nor could other executives at Zigzag.

Mark Norris, Zigzag Net, and Norris' earlier companies - including Urban Design and Send Inc. - have had a troubled financial past.

There are state and federal liens against Zigzag for back taxes and unemployment compensation. The company owes $179,562.64 in federal back taxes, according to public records.

The state liens are for smaller amounts, in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. Zigzag's attorney, David C. Brooks, had no comment.

Founded in 1997, the agency says it prides itself on the extensive research it conducts before embarking on branding and marketing campaigns.

Among its clients were the Cities of Camden, Philadelphia and Wilmington; major corporations such as Comcast Corp., McDonald's Corp., and Trump Hotel & Casino; and educational institutions including Temple University and the School District of Philadelphia, according to the company Web site.

Zigzag had 12 employees as of July 31, 2004, and reported revenue of $1.8 million, according to a report from OneSource Information Services Inc.


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Contributing to this report were staff writers Joseph A. Gambardello, Harold Brubaker, Mark Fazlollah and Andrew Maykuth.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
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