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Plant City properties up for auction reflect tough times

PLANT CITY — For sale: Pair of charming two-story brick buildings in the heart of historic downtown. Recently renovated. Green awnings. Bring cash.

Two structures once home to antique stores, a restaurant and a hair salon in downtown Plant City are among 23 properties and 33 parcels set to be auctioned next week by Higgenbotham Auctioneers.

The two structures, at 111 S Collins St. and 102 S Evers St., are the latest victims of the sluggish economy as foreclosures continue climbing in Tampa Bay and banks turn to auctions to clear their books.

Bay area foreclosures rose 3.5 percent in May to 4,446 compared with April, according to the foreclosure listing website Statewide, foreclosures rose 7 percent.

Platinum Bank of 802 W Lumsden Road in Brandon owns the downtown buildings.

Former owner David Hawthorne said he reached deals last year to transfer the properties to the bank after tenants moved out and others were late in paying.

He purchased the properties about 15 years ago and renovated both. The structures are more than 100 years old. Mae's Book Store fills part of 111 S Collins. The Evers Street property is empty.

"It just became a burden and I couldn't keep up," he said.

The auction company says more distressed properties are on the auction block than usual.

Of the 23 Plant City properties for sale, eight are in bankruptcy, two are in foreclosure and two others — the downtown buildings — are bank-owned, said auction manager Earl Williams.

That leaves a less-than inspiring portrait of historic Plant City, which before the downturn in 2007 had seen an economic rebirth. At one time, Hawthorne owned 13 downtown buildings. He has since sold off all of them.

"It's disheartening, but hopefully in some ways there's light at the end of the tunnel," said Darcy Stottlemyer, president of the Downtown Merchants and Business Association. "Hopefully, someone will buy them and something will start happening."

Lakeland-based Higgenbotham Auctioneers has scheduled the auction for June 28 at the John R. Trinkle Center at Hillsborough Community College, 1206 N Park Road.

Because some of the 23 properties contain more than one parcel, 33 parcels are for sale. Their estimated worth: $20 million.

That's more than the usual four or five Plant City properties Higgenbotham sells each year. The company last auctioned off this many parcels four years ago.

"We do this every three or four years," Williams said. "There's a little something for everybody."

Many of the properties include vacant homes or former businesses. Some are just empty land. The two downtown structures together are worth an estimated $580,000, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office.

Among the other properties for sale: 15 acres on Jim Johnson Road across from the Sweetbay Distribution Center; a former 64-acre equine facility at Trapnell and Smith Ryals roads; 146 acres on Sparkman Road; and 100 acres behind the Sweetbay center.

Williams said he expects a big turnout because of the variety of properties for sale. Also, many nonbidders will show up simply to see who's buying or whether they can expect new neighbors. Buyers should have cash on hand, he said.

Once bidding closes, buyers are expected to hand over 10 percent of the property's purchase price, plus an auction fee that usually amounts to 10 percent of the first amount. That means for a property that sells for $100,000, the buyer will need to write a check for $10,000 plus $1,000 for the auction fee. The deal must close within 45 days, Williams said.

Not every deal closes. Sometimes buyers lack funds or a judge rejects a winning bid because it doesn't meet settlement requirements for a bankruptcy or foreclosure.

"After the real estate boom the economy started turning," Williams said. "One of the big limitations today is it's very difficult getting loans, so a majority of the buyers are cash buyers."

Rich Shopes can be reached at or (813) 661-2454.