A prime piece of real estate in the heart of Naples that's been eyed for everything from a community park to a convention center will soon be in the hands of Regions Bank.
The bank, which foreclosed on the vacant 19-acre site at the northwest corner of Goodlette-Frank Road and Fifth Avenue South in March, was the sole bidder at a public auction at the Collier County courthouse Wednesday. Regions will get the downtown property with a bid of $100. But that's far from what it will cost the bank, which will look to resell it.
Court records show lenders on the property are owed nearly $47 million, including court costs and interest. Local real estate experts have speculated that the market value for the land is far less, at anywhere from $15 million to $25 million.
"The difficulty is not putting a value on it, the difficulty is putting a value on it that doesn't make Regions Bank burst into tears," said Naples broker Ross McIntosh, known for his annual snapshot that gives an overview of the local real estate market.
Regions expects to get the title to the property within 12 days, but it has already started marketing the property. The fact that there were no other bidders at the auction came as no surprise — and it doesn't mean there's no interest from developers.
While Regions wouldn't reveal its maximum bid price, it would have been in the millions.
"That's a lot of cash," said the bank's Tampa-based attorney Lori Vaughan after the auction.
Winning bidders at public foreclosure auctions must pay the full amount they offered in cash.
While there were no other bidders, several potential developers came to the auction to see what would happen with the property and huddled with Regions representatives about their possible interest in buying the land.
"It's a high-profile piece of property," Vaughan said. "We're optimistic."
Ray DeAngelis, a licensed broker and general contractor with RDI of Naples Inc., came to the auction out of curiosity and then followed out a Regions Bank representative for a chat about the property over lunch.
"I'm always looking for opportunities," he said. "This property interests me."
The land has so much potential, DeAngelis said.
"It's a great location. It's right in the middle of everything. At the right price, there will be a lot of interest."
He said whoever develops the land will need the cooperation of the city because a rezoning will most likely be sought. The current zoning is for a failed project called Renaissance Village, which lost steam after the real estate boom went bust. That project called for 205,000 square feet of commercial space and 300 residences, including luxury condos and town-homes priced from the mid-$700,000s to more than $2 million.
Brompton Road Partners, the owners of the property, defaulted on more than $45 million in loans after amending them in April 2008, court records show. Jack Antaramian, a partner in the company, had no comment about the foreclosure. But, he said, he wished the property would become a park.
"I just think it would be such a dramatic plus for Naples — with the kind of wealth we have — to turn that into something that is very park-like that everybody could use," he said. "But I guess with this economy it looks like it's a problem."
Naples Mayor John Sorey said city leaders have discussed the potential for a park on the site many times, but the general feeling is that it would be too costly, that there is already enough green space in Naples and that it would be more beneficial to have the property in the hands of a taxpayer.
Sorey said he's talked with several interested developers and hoteliers. It could be an ideal site for a hotel with meeting space, he said, but he doesn't think there's enough land to support a larger convention center, though there has been rumblings about building one there.
He said to attract a large hotel to the site, the city would have to raise its 42-foot commercial height limit, something elected leaders may be willing to do in a limited area targeted for redevelopment.
Naples Councilman Sam Saad, chairman of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, went to the auction, wanting to see what happened for himself. He wasn't too impressed by the bystanders who showed interest, but didn't bid.
"There are always people talking. I'm looking for action. So I didn't think it was anything more than gawkers there," he said.