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Claremont’s Brown Block to Be Auctioned

Claremont — The financially troubled Oscar Brown Block at the corner of Pleasant Street and Opera House Square is being auctioned off Feb. 11.

The 10,000-square-foot building has been owned by the Monadnock Economic Development Corporation of Keene since it purchased it from Main Street Claremont in 2007. A complicated financing arrangement involving tax credits and three different state agencies eventually provided sufficient funds to complete extensive renovations to the late 19th-century building.

In 2008, the former Sophie and Zeke’s restaurant moved into the renovated space but today it is home to New Socials Bar and Grill. Sugar River Barbers is also a tenant and upstairs there are apartments.

Details of the reasons for the foreclosure proceedings including how much MEDC owes were not available. A phone call to MEDC President Jack Duggan on Monday was not immediately returned.

Part of the $2.5 million financing for the project came from a $450,000 loan from the Claremont Development Authority through the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority. City Manager Guy Santagate said Monday the city was looking to fund the final piece to the financing puzzle to keep the project from stalling.

“We were trying to complete the project,” Santagate said. “It was important to get it done.”

Santagate said Monday the structure of the loan is such that the CDA is not on the hook for the $450,000 but it could owe some interest in the range of $3,000 to $4,000.

“It (CDA) was a pass-through for the loan from the BFA,” said Santagate, who is on the board of the NHBFA but was not a member when the loan was made. “There is no liability for the city and no liability, except for some interest, for the CDA.”

A lender on the project is Coastal Enterprises Inc. Capital Management, a subsidiary of Coastal Enterprises. According to its website, CEI, of Portland, Maine, is a private, nonprofit community development corporation and community development financial institution that provides financing and support for job-creating small businesses.

In an email Monday, CEI would only confirm that the auction has been scheduled but declined to provide details.

Claremont Main Street, a state-supported program that focused on revitalizing the city’s downtown bought the Brown Block in 2002 with plans to renovate it. However, securing adequate financing became too great of an undertaking for the mostly volunteer group so MEDC stepped in to buy the property.

The Brown Block is not current on taxes, according to the city clerk’s office. Total taxes owed are nearly $100,000, dating back to 2010. The taxes for 2013 are roughly $20,000, though that includes the quarterly installments due Jan. 2 and March 31. Some payments have been received but not enough to make up the balance.

According to the city’s assessing records, the Brown Block is owned by MEDC and Brown Block Development LLC. It was sold in 2007 for $178,000.

The building is currently assessed at $488,500 and the nearly one-third acre at $46,200 for a total assessment of $534,700.

“I understand that the cash flow right now works well,” Santagate said. “It is the past debts (that are the problem.)”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com