March 13, 2002

Historic C-Town Property Bought at Public Auction

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Bill Avramis made his first offer to Constance Papp fifteen years ago to purchase her property at 402 College Ave. but she refused. An elderly retired school teacher, Papp lived upstairs in the building for 44 years. Avramis owned the building next-door and he was looking to expand.

“I don’t know why she wouldn’t sell it [then],” Avramis said, noting their common interests — both are Collegetown property owners and both are Greek.

Avramis never succeeded in wresting the building from its former owner but that may wind up a mere technicality as Avramis again is considering an expansion on his building to the corner of College Ave. and Dryden Rd. This time, Avramis is negotiating with someone who is even more like himself.

Avramis’ son, George, claimed the right to the premises at 402 College Ave. yesterday with the highest bid at a public auction in the Tompkins County Courthouse lobby.

Papp’s family, the Papayanakoses, purchased the three-story, wood-framed building in 1958 and maintained ownership until last year when a County judge ruled Papp unfit to hold on to the house. With no other family members to take over the property, the court decreed the premises open for public auction.

During the past few weeks, several area developers expressed interest to Christopher George Real Estate, which was overseeing the building’s sale. It has four apartments and two commercial stores but the property — which City building inspectors list as being more than 100 years old — has fallen into serious disrepair.

“The building needs proper management to secure and stabilize it and an enormous amount of work if it is to be returned to habitable conditions,” said Richard Ripa, the City building inspector who searched the house two years ago after the Ithaca Police Department (IPD) issued a complaint regarding the dilapidated condition of the property.

Before larger, more modern brick buildings rose on College Ave. and Dryden Rd., 402 College was a popular Collegetown location — home of the University Delicatessen (the Uni-Deli) throughout the 1970s. The cinder block, stucco house was later occupied by Turk Bros. laundry, the Student Cleaning Center and the Incognito clothing store, among other retailers.

Gould’s Sports Outfitters was the last tenant in 402 College Ave., closing several years ago and the Razzle Dazzle beauty shop was recently forced out of 404 College Ave. to make way for the building’s sale.

The property fell out of compliance with City codes in 1996 but Papp said she was the building’s only occupant, so inspectors held off on their search — which served to enforce the New York State Multiple Residence Law.

Then two years ago, Papp began calling the IPD, believing that her house was being burglarized. Police never found an intruder but they began reporting a number of housing code violations. As a result, Ripa was forced to act.

Papp persistently refused to allow the City’s inspectors into the building. It ultimately took a neighbor and two police officers to help Ripa execute the warrant he obtained for the inspection.

The City report detailed water damage to Papp’s bedroom ceiling, a broken heating system and garbage strewn about in the living room. In addition, the inspector found pigeons in the attic and third floor of the Papp’s house.

“[The building] posed a danger not only to her safety and health but [it] also posed a fire hazard to the neighboring buildings,” Ripa said.

Three of the apartments were declared unsafe last year but Papp was allowed to live in the remaining apartment after it was thoroughly cleaned. Later, showing signs of mental illness, she was moved into an assisted-living facility in Jacksonville, N.Y.

“It’s probably for the best but it’s still sad,” Ripa said, who sat with Papp through the inspection to help keep her calm.

Bruce Wilson was appointed as the guardian of Papp’s property and informed the City building department last year of his intention to sell the property on behalf of the owner. The sale will be finalized at a closing with George Avramis within 30 days.

Christopher Anagnost, a Christopher George Real Estate broker, called for an opening bid yesterday with a minimum set at 500,000 dollars.

Elias Shokrian accepted the opening bid and initially seemed to have won by default with no word from the crowd until Philip Youen raised his hand. For several minutes, still, Anagnost waited through long pauses to move from one bid to the next.

All that changed when Jason Fane moved in, bidding 600,000 dollars. From there, Youen, Fane and Mack Travis quickly pushed the bidding up nearly 100,000 dollars.

With a high and perhaps a closing bid in mind, Anagnost turned to Fane.

He obliged with a 15,000-dollar advance and appearing satisfied, Anagnost prepared to end the auction with a call for final bids. He nearly declared the property sold before George Avramis entered the fray.

“700,000 dollars,” Avramis said.

Having already outlasted three prospective buyers, Fane wasted no time in advancing the bid further. Slowly and incrementally, Avramis and Fane bid each other to 800,000 and then 900,000 dollars.

The crowd assembled in the courthouse — mostly spectators — was looking exclusively to Avramis and then back to Fane for each ensuing bid. Finally, with Avramis at 925,000 dollars, all eyes turned to Fane.

“My congratulations to George,” Fane said, withdrawing abruptly from the auction.

Fane had reached his limit and Avramis later conceded that he was approaching his as well.

Immediately following the auction, Avramis said he would consider saving and restoring the building or tearing it down and paying a high price for the land. He said he would settle on specific plans for the property by the closing.

Bill Avramis was beside his son in attendance at the auction. He said it is 90 percent likely that he and George would tear down the building and extend his current holding to the corner of College and Dryden.

The biggest obstacle to the project may be parking. If Avramis decides to tear Papp’s house down and build anew, he will be held to a current City regulation that mandates that one parking space be available within 500 feet for each two tenants in a building.

Regardless of the extent of work Avramis chooses for the development, he is probably going to want to get the building ready by next school year, Ripa said.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch