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Bidders shy away from making offer on Hupps Mill Plaza

South Boston News
Ankur Brahmbhatt reviews paperwork for bidding on Hupps Mill Plaza as Andrew Hirsch, representing the law firm that served as substitute trustee, standing at left. / December 09, 2016
With a required opening bid of $2.5 million, no buyers stepped up to purchase Hupps Mill Plaza at auction Friday afternoon, leaving the shopping center in the hands of the bank that holds the default note on the 23-acre property.

While ultimately the auction drew no bidders, there was a small buzz of activity at the steps of the Halifax County Courthouse as two separate parties looking to buy the shopping center showed up with $100,000 certified or cashier’s checks as bidder’s deposits.

Two men who were pre-qualified to bid on Hupps Mill Plaza stood underneath the faded Courthouse veranda waiting for the auction to commerce. Andrew Hirsch, a member of Venable Law, a Tyson’s Corner firm that acted as substitute trustee, began the 2 o’clock auction with an announcement: “The opening bid is two million, five hundred thousand dollars. Do I have any higher bidders?”

The men quickly signaled “we’re out,” leaving the auction briefly with no apparent interested parties, although several locals were gathered outside the Courthouse to watch events unfold on a frigid Friday afternoon.

Asked whom they represented before they walked away from the auction, the two men declined to give their identities. Further queried on whether they represented the Weisser Group and owner Justin Weisser, the Florida-based firm that markets the center and reportedly purchased it a decade ago, one replied tersely, “No.”

Hirsch was similarly tight-lipped, declining to give his name in response to reporters’ inquiries. However, he could be identified from his photo on the law firm’s website.

After the two mystery suitors bowed out, another party with an interest in purchasing the center showed up about a half-hour after the auction's start. Ankur Brahmbhatt, known by many as “AB” and the owner of the Super 8 motel and other county properties.

However, Brahmbhatt ultimately declined to put forward a formal bid after a span of about an hour in which he searched the deed and sought to determine whether any claims existed against the center to ensure that title to the property was free and clear.

Brahmbhatt and an associate were nowhere to be seen at the courthouse grounds when the auction resumed at 3:15 p.m.. “Going once, going twice, sold to the lender for two and a half million dollars,” said Hirsch.

A short time later, Brahmbhatt re-emerged on Main Street across from the courthouse, where he encountered the law firm representatives driving away in an SUV. They handed back his $100,000 check.

Brahmbhatt said he still hoped to buy Hupps Mill but explained he couldn’t do so Friday without more information about the status of the property. “I don’t want to get into something I don’t know,” he said.

“It would be better to go the lender and get [it through] a normal sale rather than an auction.”

The noteholder is U.S. Bank National Association, “successor-in-interest” to the holding company in whose name the property is listed. U.S. Bank is one of the nation’s largest financial institutions and a major buyer and seller of foreclosed commercial properties.

Brahmbhatt said his interest in Hupps Mill was rooted in part in his desire to see the center brought under local control. “A closed plaza will send the wrong message” about Halifax County and its economy, he said, and Hupps Mill’s future “needs to stay here.

“A bank in California or Texas, they don’t care about the town, they care only for the dollar,” he said. “Someone here locally would be better for the tenants and the town.”

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