Downtown building fetches $8,000

Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Tribune photo by Karen Hall David Jent, in the truck, conducts an auction of a building on a corner of Lewisburg's public square.

"I can't resist an auction," said Bruce McLay, who had just bought a corner building on Lewisburg's public square for $8,000.

McLay was in town from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, to visit his son Brent who owns Saddle Creek Golf Club. They went to the auction Saturday morning and McLay bought the building at 101 1st Ave. S.

When asked what he was going to do with the building, McLay said, "We'll figure something out," adding that it would be a perfect location for a Starbucks: the corner of 1st Ave. South and East Commerce is one of the busiest in Lewisburg.

"We will have a new owner when we leave," said David Jent who conducted the auction. He started out asking for $25,000, but one of his assistants brought him McLay's bid for $8,000. Despite his best efforts, Jent never did get a raise on that, though he gave the small crowd plenty of opportunity, stringing out the "going once -- going twice" process for several minutes.

The ground floor has wonderful glass-fronted display cases on both walls from the days when the premises were used as a jewelry store and later as a pawnshop.

When the final price was announced, former owner Sue Thompson said sadly, "The shelves alone are worth that."

Ron Maggi and his wife Rita were watching. Ron is renovating a property on the south side of the square and is committed to the Downtown Alliance that's being formed.

"It's really going to help; it's going to be the save-all. This will not fail, with the people we have in it and the help from the State of Tennessee," said Maggi.

"That's an ideal spot for a café or small restaurant," Maggi added. "They're going to have to gut the building anyway, so they might as well do it right and put in the handicapped bathrooms and the commercial kitchen."

Maggi was not interested in bidding himself, since he already has several projects in the works, but he was not surprised at the price. He said it represented a "very, very good deal." Without the water damage at the rear of the building, which prevented potential buyers from seeing the upstairs or the basement, Maggi thought the structure could have brought $50,000.

Jeff Ellis of the Emporium also attended the auction, but he was less optimistic, remarking, "I don't see anything to do but tear it down." He was surprised Jent even got a bid, and said, "It's a shame it was let go that far."

The sellers, Sue Thompson and her son, J. T. Thompson, have owned the building since 1993, but have never been able to do a full renovation. Sue said they got the building at a bargain price in those days because it had been tied up in litigation for 10 or 12 years. Working backward, this puts the last date it was open for business in the late '70s.

Before he started the bidding, Jent told some of the history of the building. It was constructed in 1904, and has 1605 square feet on each of two floors, plus a full basement. In the '20s there were doctors' offices upstairs and there is plumbing for three bathrooms. Jent's flyer said, "Dr. Lilly Murrey was an eye doctor in the building." He said a 93-year-old woman had called him from Clarksville to correct that. She informed him that the "eye doctor" was in fact a blind chiropractor. The Lewisburg Rotary Club met there in the early '20s.