Friday June 8, 2012

LENOX -- Sold to the highest bidder ... or not.

The three-day online auction of the historic Cornell Inn on the northern gateway to the downtown village went down to the wire Thursday, with a closing bid of $775,000 for the three-building, four-acre property on Route 7A (Main Street).

But whether the owner of the previously foreclosed property, WestLB.AG, a bank based in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, was willing to accept the price was unclear late Thursday afternoon.

"I can't tell you because I don't know," said Sam Winterbottom, senior vice president at Grubb & Ellis in Atlanta, which represents the seller for the unique online auction, the first of its kind for a lodging facility in Berkshire County.

According to Winterbottom, he was also unaware of the identity of the high bidder.

But Lance Fyfe, the on-site innkeeper who works for Lodging Unlimited, a Chicago-based management and consulting company, told The Eagle that it's his understanding that the property did not sell.

According to Fyfe, as well as other sources closely involved in the process, the German bank had set a $900,000 minimum price for a sale -- known as a "reserve" in auction parlance.

Fyfe acknowledged that no sale keeps the status quo in place -- which he described as good news for him and his 12-member staff. He also said Wednesday's coverage in The Eagle netted him five new bookings for this weekend's $99-a-night special.

The bidding started at the required minimum, $425,000, on Tuesday morning. The property is assessed by the town at $1,733,300.

It had been marketed locally as recently as two years ago at $3.5 million.

Under Fyfe's management since late March, the 28-room bed and breakfast was increasing occupancy and revenue by offering $99-a-night rates, seven days a week, throughout the spring season. Summer rates ($180-$300) take effect June 21.

The inn had been operating at a reported loss of at least $100,000 last year. It requires as much as $1 million in structural upgrades and other improvements.

Another unresolved issue is a $680,000 tax debt to the state, resulting from the previous ownership of Billie and Doug McLaughlin, who abandoned the property in the dark of night in September 2009, leaving reservation-holders out in the cold and out their room deposits.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto