By LINDA G. RASTELLI
In a quick, uncontested auction last night, the Borough of Fair Haven sold the former Masonic Temple on River Road but not to the local retailer who had previously been the only person to express an interest in buying it.
The sole bidder was Paul K. Abrahamsen of Rumson, whose $955,000 bid was accepted. Bike Haven owner Cliff Wittenberg, owner of the nearby Bike Haven store, stayed away, afterward telling redbankgreen that he was “not happy with the process.”
The borough acquired the two-story brick building in April 2006 for $1.2 million, mainly with an eye toward getting control of the temple’s prime-location parking lot.
Borough officials wanted to unload the temple because they had achieved their goal and had no further use for the building, according to Mary Howell, borough administrator.
Mayor Mike Halfacre says the borough netted about 25 spaces, but the total will be higher after paving and striping the lot.
Abrahamsen told redbankgreen that he’s not yet ready to talk about his plans for the building at 788 River Road, which is next door to a property he already owns, at 798 River Road. He also owns a third building in Fair Haven, he said, at 813 River Road.
The property was auctioned with 10 parking spaces that the borough isn’t keeping. But auctioneer and borough attorney Sal Alfieri pointed out some caveats of the sale beforehand. One was that the borough has a stated intention, although not yet a formal policy, of encouraging businesses on River Road share access to their rear parking lots.
Abrahamsen was required to put down a 10 percent deposit last night. The closing is expected to take place within 60 days.
Last month, the borough put out a request for proposals that the mayor termed a “fishing expedition,” which netted three offers, including one from Wittenberg. The other two offers called for lease deals that the borough wasn’t interested in.
Wittenberg, who had hoped to expand his shop, said he offered $950,000 for the property and that Halfacre “came in, shook my hand, and accepted my offer.”
He said he later found out that the building was being auctioned. “The opening bid was for the same price I’d offered,” Wittenberg said. “It should have either been a sealed bid, or the bidding should have started at zero.” He did not attend the auction last night.
Halfacre responded that while “pleasantly surprised” by Wittenbergs offer, he did not accept it because he had no authority to do so.
“Were required to auction it out. The law requires that,” he told redbankgreen. In fact, he went on, he had anticipated that Wittenberg would be the only bidder last night, based on the fact that the other offers were lease offers and that Abrahamsen had not expressed any interest before last night.
“We expected him [Wittenberg] to come in and bid $950,000 and that would be the end of it,” Halfacre said.
Halfacre has previously said he wants the town to use the sale proceeds to pay down existing debt.