Barnes Lumber: Mystery buyer revealed-- sorta
At a highly publicized foreclosure auction of J. Bruce Barnes Lumber in the heart of Crozet in June, the winning bid of $1.9 million bid came from an unidentified man who refused to say who he was. On September 28, the trustee finally revealed that the bidder was a shill for Union First Market Bank, which held the note.
"It's not uncommon for lenders to do that if the bids are coming in too low," says Bill Cimino, Union First spokesperson. "Someone may have been trying to get a low price."
At the auction, Union First senior VP Dave Clelland, on hand as the official bank rep, upped the price when it was hovering around $450,000 to $1.4 million.
Charlottesville developer Keith Woodard offered $1.5 million and battled it out with the bank's secret bidder, known only as Striped-Shirt Man, until Woodard refused to go beyond $1.85 million, and the bidding ground to a halt with the bank's $1.9 million bid.
Spokesperson Cimino defends the manipulation of what he describes as "auction dynamics to get the price you want." Says Cimino, "It's a good deal for us."
The deed places the actual value at $3,285,200, which is how Albemarle has assessed the property's two parcels. Former owner Carroll Conley owed $1.9 million on a line of credit, according to the foreclosure notice.
A Union First entity called UB Ten LLC intends to market, but not develop, the property.
"We're working with Albemarle County to figure out what needs to be done to fit into the Crozet Master Plan," says Cimino. That includes rezoning the heavy-industrial site to mixed use, a process that was underway when the foreclosure notice went out.
At one point, Conley and developer Katurah Roell of Piedmont Development Group planned to turn Barnes Lumber into Crozet's own version of the Downtown Mall.
Union First seems eager to recoup its losses by selling the property. Says Cimino, "We still think it's an opportunity for the bank to get more than from the auction."