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Sterling Centers back on auction block

Minimum bid dropped to $100K for Thursday sale

STERLING – The former Frantz Manufacturing building, now known as Sterling Centers, will be back on the auction block Thursday.

The building will be up for sale at 10 a.m. at the site, 301 W. Third St., by Mel Foster Co. Auction Services. This will be the third such auction since 2008, but the minimum bid has dropped dramatically.

Gabler Family Corp., led by local businessman Jim Gabler, bought the building at auction for $225,000 in 2008. Gabler hoped to convert the space into a technology center that would create up to 500 jobs. The nation, however, was in the throes of a recession, and after putting a great deal of money into the project, Gabler unsuccessfully put the building up for auction in June 2010, with a minimum bid of $900,000.

The starting bid will be $100,000 at Thursday’s auction, said D. Herb Burns, auctioneer for Mel Foster. Burns said he hopes to find a buyer this time at what he calls a “giveway price.”

“There have been some nibbles at it, and we’ve done a few showings,” Burns said. “I would sure think we could get that minimum bid. It will take someone with a little vision, but this is a great price.”

The seller is now Helping Hands of America, a nonprofit organization to which Gabler gave the building late last year. That deal closed Dec. 31, and the building was then put back on the market.

Heather Sotelo, executive director at Greater Sterling Development Corp., said officials have shown the building many times over the years, but that the sheer size of the building – 480,000 square feet – can be daunting.

The three-floor building includes 30,000 square feet of office space and 18 loading docks.

“It’s a difficult building to fill,” Sotelo said. “It’s very large, and most of it has only 10-foot ceilings.”

Many years ago, the building was used for warehousing and shipping. Businesses now look for ceilings in the 36-foot range for stacking boxes in storage.

“At this point, I think it would probably be best suited for use as a call center or possibly multiple uses,” Sotelo said.

Burns agreed that the size of the building has scared off some potential buyers.

“If this building were 100,000 square feet, people would be lined up to buy it,” Burns said. “But at 480,000, people are wondering what they’d do with all that space.”

Another possibility is for a group of people to buy the massive structure and parcel it off for different uses, Burns said.

“There is so much opportunity there,” Burns said. “If everybody isn’t afraid of their own shadow, there are a lot of years of life in that building.”

Sotelo said she knew no one who is currently interested in the building, but she hopes someone with vision steps up.

“Hopefully, someone will make a bid,” she said. “We’d love to have someone take it.”

Taxes on the building are estimated at $4,200 a year.

If the building is not sold at auction Thursday, it would likely go back on the market with the real estate agency, Burns said. Jim King Jr. of RE/MAX Sauk Valley is the listing agent.

Up for auction

Mel Foster Co. Auction Services will offer the Sterling Centers building for sale at 10 a.m. Thursday at 301 W. Third St. The starting bid is $100,000.

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