A n Orange County businessman and entrepreneur who owns an historic ski lodge in Vermont and property on Gray Lane along the Mettowee River secured the winning bid for the Whitehall Armory during a public auction held at the Canal Corp. Visitors Center Tuesday afternoon.
Gregory Gross put forward a winning bid of $165,000 and beat out the other six registered bidders.
Gross, who worked in the insurance industry for 30 years and splits his time betweenTuxedoParkandKillington,Vt., said he hopes to transform the building into an athletic club.
“The exposure of the building is fantastic. I imagine a half million people drive by it on an annual basis,” Gross said. “Whitehallis a fantastic location.”
About 30 people attended the auction, including several representatives from the Office of General Services, the seven bidders, members of the media and about a dozen or so local residents who were interested in learning the fate of the century-old building.
“This is a great day. It’s a good asset for the community, but it’s also an investment in the community itself,” said Bethe Reynolds, who served as Gross’ agent and is president of the Whitehall Chamber of Commerce.
Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon, who had sought the armory as a possible municipal center before determining maintenance costs were prohibitive, was pleased with the results of the auction.
“I’m happy because he isn’t going to tear the place down. He’s going to do something with it and it can go back on the tax rolls,” he said.
Bidding for the building opened at $75,000 and increased by $1,000 dollar increments for roughly the first $20,000 before Gross began to bid more aggressively, upping the ante by as much as $3,000 at a time.
By the time the sum began to reach into six figures, most of the bidding was limited to three or four bidders and it eventually became a two-man race between Gross and David Petronis, who had eyed the building as a massive gun shop and venue for large scale gun shows, but in the end $165,000 was more than he or anyone else wished to bid.
“I expected some competition,” Gross said, adding that it was the first time he’s ever purchased a building at auction.
Bob Vanderloo, a representative with the real estate division of the Office of General Services, was pleasantly surprised with the winning bid.
“Personally, it went for more than I thought it would,” he said, adding that OGS would be happy as long as it sold.
Gross said be became interested in purchasing the property after attending the last of five open houses on Sept. 7. He arranged another visit last week and came away impressed.
“It’s a spectacular building. It’s phenomenally large,” he said.
“And I like collecting older property”
Gross said he owns an 18th century farm and lives in a house that was built in 1891.
Last year he purchased the Highline Lodge near Killington. The building is one of only a few original ski lodges built in Killington during the 1960’s and used to be known as the Alpenhof Lodge.
The 14-room, 9,000-square-foot building features 14 guest rooms and a cross country ski center.
He also owns 67 acres along theMettoweeRiverwhere he has been transforming the land into a links-style golf course he has dubbed the Whitehall Field Club.
Although the course isn’t complete, he said he’s tried to mirror it afterSt.Andrew’s and is hoping to hold an outing there next month.
“I’m hoping it (the armory) will help anchor that property,” he said. “Once I bought that place down by the river, I had a vested interest in the community.”
An avid squash player, Gross was immediately attracted by the armory’s potential to be used as an athletic club with courts, saunas, a gym and even some lodging in the basement.
“When I saw the building and the area underneath the lockers, I immediately thought of squash courts,” he said. “It reminded me of the old racquet clubs in the city.”
Gross ultimately envisions the Whitehall Field Club and the future athletic club having reciprocal benefits for members and thinks it could attract more people to the area.
“I would like to dramatically change the thoroughfare,” he said.
Gross will begin cleaning the armory as soon as this fall with hopes of having the building tidied up by Christmas time. He said he may even hire a caretaker to maintain the building with the actual transformation into an athletic club beginning next spring.
“It’s going to a take a significant amount of capital to get it up to where it needs to be,” he said.