Ilya Marritz covers business for WNYC.
Seeking a Piece of the City, Bidders Flock to Auction
Thursday, May 10, 2012 - 04:39 PM
Dozens of city-owned properties around the four outer boroughs were auctioned off to the highest bidder as the city spun off some assets Thursday in downtown Manhattan.
The prospectus promised a chance "to own a piece of New York City." And the piece Paul Marcel wanted was a vacant lot – 50-by-77 feet - in Whitestone, Queens.
"I'm trying to open my own business, work for myself," Marcel said, adding that he wants to tow and recover abandoned and stolen vehicles. "Maybe with the city I can get a piece of land that I need to get my business going.”
Auctions like this used to happen three or four times a year, with hundreds of properties seized from owners who were behind on their taxes.
But the city stopped doing tax foreclosures some time ago. This auction was the first in almost six years. And it offered a grab bag of abandoned and leftover properties: a wedge of forest on Staten Island, and a lot where school buses park in Brooklyn.
Ten properties received no bids, while a bidding war pushed the price of an irregularly-shaped patch in Jamaica, Queens above $1 million.
To clinch the bid and make the down payment on the Whitestone lot, Marcel brought more than $20,000 in cash.
But sitting all around him, on white folding chairs that filled the rotunda of the old Emigrant Savings Bank on Chambers Street, was the competition: about 100 men and women with their own bids to make.
When the auctioneer called Parcel 8, Marcel's hand went up. Three or four other bidders jumped in as well.
When the bidding reached $135,000 Marcel's hand came down, and he slumped in his chair.
"I can't be angry, I can't be sad," Marcel said afterward. "It's a little upsetting. I had it all planned out. It was gonna work in my favor."
But it didn't. And he'll have to find some other lot to start his towing business.
The biggest winner today was the city itself.
Commissioner Edna Wells Handy of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which ran the auction, said she expected to bring in about $2 million. Instead, the city received pledged bids of more than $5 million.