Firehouse bidder offers $500,000

November 13, 1992

The Princeton Packet

Firehouse bidder offers $500,000

Princetons to decide if they will accept or reject

By Laurie Lynn Strasser

Staff Writer

Rysia de Ravel, who cast the $500,000 high bid in a public auction of the Chambers Street firehouse Thursday, said that Princeton Borough previously rejected her offer of twice as much.

“At one point I called up the borough and offered them a million and they turned me down,” the Lawrenceville entrepreneur said. “I was ready to take my check over 1 1/2 years ago. They said they thought they could get more at public auction.”

“If it was true, I could stand and cry,” said Ellen Souter, a Princeton Township committeewoman with a real-estate back-ground. “This is going to affect the town-ship taxpayer. I’m disappointed the price was so low. I think we all thought, across the board, that the price would be higher.”

Both the township and the borough have a stake in the sale, because proceeds will be used to recoup the $2.1 million construction cost of the Witherspoon Street firehouse. Based on their respective ratables, the township is responsible for $1,280,000 of the new structure, and the borough for $720,000, Ms. Souter said. Mercer Engine Co. No. 3 moved in October from the Chambers to the Witherspoon Street station.

The borough must accept Ms. de Ravel’s bid by Dec. 8 — its second regular meeting after the auction — or else it is automatically rejected, borough Administrator Thomas Shannon said.

However, borough Mayor Marvin Reed said, “We’ll probably make a basic de-termination by that Nov. 24. That’s our next regular meeting. Both the council and the committee must concur on accepting the sale. I will confer with [township] Mayor [Richard] Woodbridge and we’ll determine whether to have a joint meeting or meet separately with our respective governing bodies.”

“I would accept that amount,” Councilman David Goldfarb, said, “unless somebody can show me that there was something…

…in the sale itself that was deficient. That’s what the market is. That’s what the building is worth.”

But Mark Freda, a borough councilman and firefighter, said, “It’s lower than I personally thought. My inclination, without having talked to the administrator or the auctioneer, would be to probably look to reject it.”

Said Ms. Souter, “I would hope they would consider putting a hold on it, maybe putting it on the open market.”

Before the auction began, Ms. de Ravel said she was prepared to spend as much as $700,000 to buy the fire station. The bidding started at. $250,000, but none of the other eight registrants went above $485,000. In fact, only four who signed in submitted bids at all.

The fiercest bidding war was between Ms. de Ravel, and a married couple from West Windsor with aspirations of opening a restaurant, but they stopped at $450,000, bested by a late entrant in the back of the room.

Ms. de Ravel — alias bidder Number 66 — was elated at her • bargain.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy,” the Harvard Business School graduate laughed. “I can’t believe it. Where’s everybody? I thought that there would be other people here.”

Even the auctioneer did not show until it was too late. Coldwell Banker Schlott’s Auction Division manager, Joe Zidek, presided, be-. cause the appointed auctioneer, Jill Doherty, was delayed in traffic until shortly before the bidding closed. Scheduled for 7 p.m., the proceedings commenced at 7:20 and ended within 15 minutes.

Ms. de Ravel said she hoped to use at least two of the building’s three floors as an office. She said she has been searching more than three years for a Princeton site for DeraCom, her New York-based telecommunications company. Incorporated in 1985, the firm arranges conference calls for lawyers, Wall Street financial institutions, and chief executive officers of For-tune 500 companies, she said.

Although borough officials claimed most interested parties wanted to renovate the building as a restaurant, she said beforehand, “We don’t want a restaurant there. We saw roaches there today. These were big, like New York roaches. I wanted to throw up. Just imagine how many roaches there would be if we put a restaurant there.”

But after she clinched the high bid, Ms. de Ravel reconsidered her position, promising to “keep an open mind.”

“I would like the borough to accept this bid,” she said, confess-ing, “Given the fact that the bid is low, I have to look at it more flexibly.”

A Warsaw-born Canadian citizen who also has lived in Montreal and Paris, she described the building as “very charming” with “beautiful architectural lines.” However, she said, “It’s got some devastating structural problems. It may be over a million to fix it up.”

Although the building used to be a firehouse, it must meet a different fire code to be used as anything else. Assuming the borough accepts the half million, Ms. de Ravel will be allowed 60 days to either buy easements from neighbors for emergency access or render the interior fire resistant.

“I was partly in it for sport,” Ms. de Ravel said. “At 500,000 I couldn’t afford not to.”

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