SURPRISE AUCTION

September 25, 2009
By

David Taber

Office building foreclosed on

PONDSIDE—Citizens Bank began and then suspended a foreclosure auction Wednesday morning on the office building at 891 Centre St. where local non-profits the Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC) and the Union of Minority Neighborhoods (UMN), and local developer Maple Hurst Builders, have offices.

The auction was a surprise to most of the building’s tenants. Earlier in the week, the Gazette first informed at least two of the tenants—Maple Hurst and the ENC—about it. Also, in e-mails to the Gazette earlier this week, and, UMN director Horace Small said, to his wife Tuesday night, the building owners were saying the auction would not happen.

John Judge, who is among the partners who purchased the building from the Boy Scouts of America in 2006, was recently hired as the chief development officer for the City of Springfield, Mass.—overseeing that city’s office of planning and Economic Development—the Gazette has learned.

A May 29, 2009 City of Springfield press release announcing Judge’s hire notes that he is a former employee of the Boy Scouts of America.

The 11 a.m. auction in the parking lot next to 891 Centre St., attended by the Gazette, attracted about half-a-dozen qualified bidders—bearing certified deposit checks for $30,000—as well as the building‘s tenants and some area residents, including a few members of the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) board.

When the bidding commenced, only two bidders made offers, starting at $400,000 and ending at $600,000. Neither of the bidders were tenants and the owners did not attend the auction. One of the bidders appeared to be talking to someone on a cell phone during the proceedings.

After the bidding topped out, auctioneer Paul Saperstein of Paul Saperstein Co. suspended the bidding to confer with representatives from Citizen’s Bank. When the bidding recommenced, Brian Plunkett, a lawyer for Citizens, bid $1 million.

There were no further bids, despite Saperstein’s admonition that, “If you snooze you lose. If you don’t buy you are going to cry.” After another brief adjournment, Saperstein said the bidding would be suspended until today, Sept. 25 at 11 a.m.

Speaking to the Gazette after the auction was suspended, Plunkett said the $1 million bid was “simply the bank’s expression of interest” in the property. “Since there were no bids above that, the bank decided to postpone the bidding,” he said.

In a Gazette phone interview prior to the auction, local real estate attorney Art Johnson told the Gazette it is common in foreclosure auctions for the banks that hold the mortgages to make a bid to establish a floor for the auction.

Describing the scene in the parking lot Wednesday morning, Small said. “I can’t believe all these white guys in suits. I drove in here and I thought I was on Milk Street” in Boston’s financial district.

Some residents who attended the auction expressed concerns that the current two-story office building would be replaced with a high-rise. Before the bidding commenced, responding to a question from a bidder, one Citizens representative said he was not aware of any zoning constraints on the building.

The property is zoned for residential use, two-family 5000, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s zoning map. It is also in a Greenbelt Protection Overlay District (GPOD) because it is near public parkland. The Boston Parks Commission would review any major changes on the property.

JPA board vice-chair Jack Fay attended the auction. The JPA successfully opposed an attempt by the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center to lease the property in 1995 on the grounds that it would create traffic and parking problems in the neighborhood.

One party that did not appear was the building’s current owners, known as Arborway Terrace LLC. That group took out $2 million mortgage with Citizens Bank in 2006.

Earlier in the week, when the Gazette contacted Judge about the impending auction, he responded via e-mail that, “We are not selling the building. We have spent the last two years improving and investing in this property.”

Judge, when he purchased the property from the Boy Scouts of America in 2006, described himself as “a fourth-generation Bostonian” with “deep roots in JP.” And he offered his cell phone number for publication in the Gazette.

That number, which is also listed as his company, Judge Co.’s business number on its web site, is disconnected. Judge Co. lists 891 Centre as its address.

In his e-mail exchange with the Gazette, Judge signed his e-mails “Chief Development Officer, City of Springfield.” According to Tom Walsh, a spokesperson in Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s office, Judge has worked for that city since June.

In a written comment to the Gazette, Sarno expressed confidence in Judge, saying, “This appears to be a private matter Mr. Judge is working to resolve. Since joining the city in June 2009, Mr. Judge has been doing a stand-up job.”

The Judge Co. web site lists the redevelopment of seven buildings in Chelsea that formerly belonged to the Archdiocese of Boston among its current projects, though the site has apparently not been updated in a while. It says work is due to begin on that project in 2008.

Judge did not respond to Gazette questions about the current status of that project or other Judge Co. development projects.

Small told the Gazette that, upon learning of the scheduled auction this week, he began talking to other tenants about purchasing the building and setting it up as a cooperative. It is unclear if the tenants would have been able to form a partnership in time for the auction. Small said UMN was unprepared to bid because of the information they received Tuesday night that the auction would not go forward.

Chris DeSisto of Maple Hurst Builders expressed reservations about the idea. “The problem with that is entering into a partnership with people you do not know very well,” he said. But, when it became clear that the high bid for the day was $600,000, he said he regretted that he did not have a deposit check to join the bidding.