The striped-shirted man who cast the winning $1.9 million bid on the left; green-shirted Chris Lee of Piedmont Development Group on the right.
Auctioneer Dick Heatwole exhorts the bids upward for the 400 lots of Barnes Lumber equipment.
photo by lisa provence
Three bidders put up $50,000 to have a chance to buy J. Bruce Barnes Lumber, an institution in the heart of Crozet that had been touted as a future downtown mall before it skidded to the foreclosure auction block on June 27. The winning bid was $1.9 million. The winning buyer? He won't say.
And in a crowd with a number of development insiders, it was odd that no one recognized the winning bidder.
"I'm not authorized to say who I work for or who I am," said the striped-shirt-wearing, white-haired man as he walked through the parking lot surrounded by a scrum of reporters. Nor would he reveal any inkling of plans the new owner has for the nearly 19 acres of prime Crozet real estate before escaping in his dark blue Ford pickup.
More than 100 people had gathered inside a Barnes warehouse, most presumably there to buy the 400 lots of lumberyard equipment and milled wood.
Shortly after noon, the bidding on tarps and hand tools stopped and switched over to the higher-ticket real estate.
Lumberyard owner Carroll Conley had been working to rezone the heavy-industrial property to a mixed use of office, retail, and residential when Union First Market Bank foreclosed on his $1.9 million credit line.
Auctioneer Dick Heatwole tried to get the bidding going at $3.5 million– with no takers. He kept dropping the price until it hit $1 million, and still no one made a bid.
"Three hundred thousand," said Kent Higginbotham of Orange.
"This isn't going the right way," bemoaned Heatwole.
Bidding inched up to $450,000 when Union First senior VP Dave Clelland stepped in to boost the price to $1.4 million.
Charlottesville developer Keith Woodard offered $1.5 million, and he battled it out with the mysterious striped-shirt man until Woodard refused to go beyond $1.85 million. Sold for $1.9 million.
"You take the economic times, and I don't think that it's that bad," auctioneer Heatwole said after the sale. "This is a misfit in this part of town," he added, dubious that another lumber business operator would want to step in.
"Given the risk with rezoning, the price probably wasn't unfair," says Chris Lee with Piedmont Development Group, which had been working with Conley and hoped to work with Woodard on rezoning the property. Albemarle County assesses the two parcels that make up the lumberyard for $3.29 million
Piedmont's president, Katurah Roell, well-known on the local development scene, was another who had no idea who the buyer was.
Two people who do know include the trustee, Suzanne Thomas of the law firm of Lenhart Obenshain and banker Clelland, but neither would divulge the mystery man's name.
The only hint Thomas would offer: In 30 days the deed will be recorded.
Carroll Conley has worked at the lumber yard since he started as a truck driver there in 1968. He bought what had been S.W. Barnes Lumber in 1988, and named it after his boss and friend, J. Bruce Barnes.
"When you've been at a place that long," he says, "it's hard." And although era of Barnes Lumber is gone, Conley says he hopes a street or alley will carry the Barnes name.
"The land went cheap for $1.9 million," says Conley, who notes that's way less than the assessment upon which he was paying taxes.
He spent the day there as the property where he'd worked his whole life was dismantled, and he checked to make sure the doors were locked at the end of the day.
"I'll still keep my eyes on the place," says Conley. "They haven't taken my key yet."
Updated 11am June 28 with Carroll Conley remarks.