DAILY NEWS - Neighbors worry about 'unknown' of Bradford College auction

August 13, 2007

By Jason Tait , Staff Writer
Daily News of Newburyport

HAVERHILL - Since its doors closed seven years ago, the future of the historical Bradford College campus has been in doubt.

The speculation is set to end next month when the school is put on the auction block for the highest bidder to claim.

The campus owners, Angelo Gordon & Co. of New York, want to liquidate the empty campus after years of failed negotiations with potential buyers.

J.J. Manning Auctioneers of Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod, the company running the sealed-bid auction, said it expects 10 to 14 bidders.

Neighbors, who have been fighting to keep the property an educational complex, say they are anxious.

"We're definitely not eager for an auction," said Barbara Greenwood, co-president of the Bradford College Neighborhood Association. "It's the unknown."

Angelo Gordon & Co. can refuse to accept any of the bids, but their intent is to sell the 18-acre campus if the offers are reasonable, said Justin Manning, president of the auction company.

"They have an objective, which is to liquidate the asset," Manning said of the campus owners.

The sealed bids with $100,000 deposits are due by Sept. 18, the date all offers will be opened. The winning bidder will be notified the next day and will have until Nov. 5 to finalize the deal. A deal may not become public until after the deed is transferred, Manning said.

Because of financial problems, Bradford College closed abruptly seven years ago after 197 years as a liberal arts school. It was bought about a year later for $10.1 million by GFI Partners, an Angelo Gordon & Co. affiliate.

Neighbors and alumni have been adamant that the campus remain as a school in some fashion. Restrictive zoning laws nearly guarantee that the winning bidder will be an educational institution.

At least one potential buyer is known - Zion Bible College of Rhode Island. Zion's bid to buy the vacant Bradford property in December failed because the college lacked enough money to make the purchase as well as rehabilitate the aging buildings on campus. It is trying again.

Greenwood said her organization supports Zion's attempt to buy the college.

Calls to Zion officials were not returned, but Mayor James Fiorentini said they are still interested. His office has been in regular contact with the school, he said.

Lani Ludwick, an Angelo & Gordon spokeswoman, said there is no minimum bid and the company does intend to sell to the highest bidder. She said the company has gotten several inquiries already, and the marketing of the property has not yet started.

"We're going full speed ahead with the auction," she said.

Notices of the auction will be sent to educational institutions nationwide, and national advertisements will also be placed.

The auction includes eight of the nine campus buildings, excluding only Kimball Tavern, which is off-campus and located next to nearby Bradford Common. That building may be donated to the city, the mayor said.

Haverhill expects an educational institution to buy the property, Fiorentini said.

"We're excited about it," Fiorentini said of the auction. "It has potential to be very good for the city, indeed."

If a buyer wanted to change the zoning it would require going before the City Council, which would have to happen before Nov. 5.

"The city has crafted the zoning to protect the city's interest in the property there," said William Pillsbury, the city's economic development and planning director.

The neighborhood would oppose rezoning the campus for other uses.

"We've waited for seven years for that campus to have an educational user, and we believe they are at the door," Greenwood said. "We're not going to give up."
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