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$100 wins Venice lease

February 25, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Though nearly 20 people plus auctioneers showed up Tuesday for the sale of a 99-year lease on the Venice Inn, only one bid was offered by the time it was over.

That bid was for $100.

But since the sale was an absolute auction, it had to be sold to the highest, and in this case the only, bidder.

The bid was offered by Baltimore attorney Kevin Kobbe on behalf of Venice Assets LLC, a partnership that includes Don Witmondt of Parsippany, N.J., and his son.

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Auctioneer Gilbert Schwartzman of Owings Mills, Md.-based Michael Fox International opened bidding on what he called "a piece of Americana" to dead silence in the Venice Inn ballroom.

Finally, he announced a break for several minutes, and quiet conversations ensued among potential bidders in the back of the room. But when Schwartzman reopened bidding, the room remained quiet until he was about to close. That's when Kobbe made the Witmondt's offer.

Once the deal is closed, Venice Assets will be responsible for, among other things, a monthly lease payment of $25,000.

The hotel is owned by Venice Inn Limited Liability Corp. and managed by New Jersey-based Horizon Hotels, according to Hagerstown attorney Edward Button, who represents the bank that owns the lease, and Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records. Button serves as the agent for Venice Inn LLC.

The lease is owned by U.S. Bank Trust National Association, Trustee, a Minnesota banking company, Button said. Cleveland-based Metropolitan Bank & Trust, now part of Sky Bank, has been acting as an agent for the Minnesota bank, he said.

The bank took over the lease after Nielsen Enterprises defaulted on the lease payments in 1999, Button said. At a February 2000 auction, the bank made the high bid of $2.5 million for the lease after only one private group bid for the hotel, according to The Herald-Mail archives.

The lease was created in April 1998 and had an initial seven-year term with the option to extend it 13 times for additional periods of seven years each. The leased property includes the five-story hotel, two-story restaurant, banquet and liquor store building, two- and three-story motel, swimming pool, one-story warehouse, one-story fast-food restaurant building and parking lot.

Witmondt would say little about plans for the hotel, except that Venice Assets was "trying to find ways to make things better." He did say reopening the hotel restaurant, closed for the past year and a half, was one thing he was considering.

In the meantime, he said, Horizon Hotels would continue to manage the complex.

Schwartzman said there had been great interest in the lease - his company had sent about 70 packets of information to prospective bidders - but conditions of the sale had been a deterrent.

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