7 Uniontown properties owned by 84 Lumber founder sold for $410,500
Bidders on Thursday plunked down nearly a half-million dollars to lay claim to seven commercial buildings in downtown Uniontown, most of which were once part of a self-made multi-millionaire's plan to revitalize the city.
Commercial Center Associates, a real estate development company owned by 84 Lumber founder Joe Hardy, had Higgenbotham Auctioneers International of Florida sell the properties.
Bethany Cypher, chief operating officer for Commercial Center Associates, on Wednesday said Hardy wanted to unload the parcels so others can make a run at filling them with retail outlets and offices.
“He's 93,” Cypher said. “He's trying to pass on the torch of Uniontown, to see if other young entrepreneurs can give a go at the same type of thing he did.”
Hardy purchased most of the properties between 2004 and 2005 for a total of $503,000 through the real estate company, according to county records. The seven parcels sold for a combined $410,500, or $92,500 less than Hardy spent to acquire them.
Hardy purchased the downtown properties when he was a county commissioner as part of his George C. Marshall Plan II, named for the Uniontown native who crafted the post-World War II plan for Europe's reconstruction.
Ten properties were set to be auctioned, but the two most recognizable ones — 30 E. Main and 27 W. Main — were pulled moments before the auction's 11 a.m. start at the Hilton Garden Inn in South Union. Both parcels are vacant, but 30 E. Main formerly housed a restaurant and 27 W. Main was the location of the recently shuttered outdoors store Woodlands World.
Cypher on Thursday did not return a call seeking comment on the two properties' removal from the auction.
Auctioneer Martin Higgenbotham said he was not given a reason for the properties' withdrawal.
“None of us have an answer on that,” Higgenbotham said. “They just decided at the last minute they weren't going to sell them.”
A third property at 12, 14 and 22 Morgantown St. that was to be auctioned as a package was pulled when Higgenbotham could not persuade about 150 would-be buyers to raise a starting-bid offer from $50,000 to $75,000.
“At $50,000, that don't make any sense at all,” said Higgenbotham, who pointed out the building already has a tenant whose $900 monthly rent brings in more than $100,000 annually.
Among those who bought other properties was 38-year-old Jason Early of Uniontown. The high bidder at $66,000 on a three-story building at 35 Morgantown St., Early said he plans to rent it out as office space.
Early said he paid a bit more than anticipated, but it was within the amount he estimated.
“I haven't digested it yet, but it's within the range I wanted to pay,” said Early, who already owns a building on East Main Street that he rents to a law firm. “I wanted a bargain, but nothing and nothing is nothing.”
Benjamin Venick said he bought himself “peace of mind, knowing that you own everything outright” when he came in as the top bidder at $100,000 for 84 W. Main St. For eight years, Venick has rented the building for his restaurant, Rizz's.
Ron Romeo, who operates World Importing Market on South Beeson and Ultimate Structures on Pittsburgh Street, picked up 40 W. South St. for $24,000. Sale terms require that he honor an existing lease with the owner of a shaved-ice business at the site, which Romeo said he intends to do.
Hardy did not attend the auction. In 2005, he told the Tribune-Review he spent between $7 million and $8 million on the ambitious Marshall revitalization initiative.
Of the buildings that were sold Thursday, three are vacant, one is a lot and the remainder have at least one tenant each.
Some of the vacant buildings at various times had tenants, a trend city officials hope the new buyers will reverse.
“If someone is buying them, they are buying them for a reason,” said Mark Rafail, executive director of Uniontown Redevelopment Authority. “Hopefully, we'll get new businesses in town, and we keep the existing ones.”
Some of the properties are in a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Program zone, or LERTA. Under that program, the new owners might be eligible for local tax breaks in exchange for developing the properties, according to Scott Phillips, assistant director of the county's assessment office. Phillips said some of the properties previously received tax breaks through LERTA, but they were placed back on the tax rolls when they reached the program's five-year maximum under the current owner.
Higgenbotham said Commercial did not set minimum selling prices for any of the buildings, but it reserved the right to reject any, or all, of the bids. He said an auction house representative will meet with the sellers Tuesday to determine whether to accept the bids.
“They could turn them down, but I think they will sell a lot of them,” Higgenbotham said, noting the number of bidders who turned out is a good indication the buildings sold at fair prices. “Anytime you have 150 people bidding on a project, that's pretty much the value.”
Liz Zemba is a Tribune-Review staff writer.