Princeton officials seek consensus on firehouse bid

November 24, 1992

Princeton officials seek consensus on firehouse bid

By Laurie Lynn Strasser

Staff Writer

In closed session tonight, the governing bodies of Princeton Borough and Township will discuss jointly whether to accept a $500,000 bid on the empty Chambers Street firehouse.

Members of the Borough Council and Township Committee agree that the bid from the Nov. 12 auction fell short of their expectations. But they are divided over whether to reject or accept the bid.

“Nobody knows for sure, but I would hope we make a decision as to accept or reject it, certainly if not tomorrow, very soon,” township Mayor Richard Woodbridge said Monday. “My preliminary preference would be to put it out to auction again. My thought is it would be nice to see if we could get a higher price for it.”

If no decision is reached tonight, the borough faces a Dec. 8 dead-line.

The borough assessor initially valued the Chambers Street property at $1.3 million, borough May-or Marvin Reed said. After emerging as the high bidder at half that amount, Lawrenceville entrepreneur Rysia de Ravel said the borough previously rejected her offer of $1 million.

Borough officials denied her claim. “That’s not true,” Mayor Reed said. “We can’t make a private deal. She may have talked to people and said she was prepared to pay a million dollars, but the only way we can dispose of the firehouse is through the course of public bid-ding. That’s the only thing that really counts.”

Ms. de Ravel, who planned to move her New York-based tele-communications company into the firehouse, said it could cost more than $1 million just to refurbish the structure. She also would have to either purchase easements from neighbors for emergency access or fireproof the inside.

Four officials are leaning toward rejecting the bid — township Mayor Woodbridge, Township Commit-tee member Ellen Souter and Councilmen Mark Freda and Ray Wadsworth. They either thought that the building could fetch a better price or felt the sale was conducted improperly.

“My initial gut reaction is I think the bid should be rejected,” Ms Souter said. “I want documentation to convince me otherwise. I have to answer to the Princeton Township taxpayers and I still don’t have enough information in my hand to give a qualified answer.”

The three who favored accepting the bid = Committeeman Laurence Glasberg and council members Mildred Trotman and David Goldfarb — said it was too costly to do otherwise, or too risky, because a second auction could yield a lower bid.

“If I had to make a life or death decision, I’d say accept it,” Ms. Trotman said. “It is a bird in the hand.”

Dissatisfied with Coldwell Banker Schlott’s job of marketing the old fire station, Mr. Wadsworth said he would be inclined to refuse Ms. de Ravel’s offer and try again.

“I think it’s low,” he said. “I’m a little bit disturbed. I heard the auctioneer didn’t get there until it was all over.”

Coldwell Banker’s Auction Division manager, Joe Zidek, presided over the sale because the appointed auctioneer, Jill Doherty, was delayed in traffic until shortly before the bidding closed.

After conferring with Mr. Zidek at a League of Municipalities convention last week, Mr. Glasberg advocated accepting the high bid.

“He seemed to be very satisfied that there had been proper market exposure, that there had been proper market reaction to the property and that this was the price,” he said. “There is a cost of not moving forward. If we conclude the deal, there is cash received that we could invest for the benefit of the community. If we don’t move forward, we have to carry the cost of the new firehouse longer without an off-set.”

Before rendering a decision, Ms. Marchand said she wanted to find out exactly what that cost would be.

She, Committeeman Fred Porter and Councilman Roger Martindell all said they would reserve judgement until the meeting.

“I am going to keep my mind open,” Mr. Martindell said. “One of the things we politicians face if we were to reject the pending bid is the chance, slim though it may be, that a second auction would lead to an even lower result. That would be embarrassing.

“On the other hand,” he said, “one can make the argument that the rejection of all bids and a new marketing effort might lead to a larger pool of bidders seconds time around because of the publicity attending the first auction.”

Councilwoman Terpstra was unavailable for comment.

“People should let us know before Dec. 8 if they’re interested in paying more than $500,000 for it,” Mr. Goldfarb said. “That certainly could influence our decision whether or not to accept that bid. As far as I know, nobody has offered more. That is a pretty good indication that the price is fair.”

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