Worcester tract sold for $8.1 million

Competitive auction benefits 3 churches

April 30, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE

A New York City development company emerged as the winning bidder at a spirited auction yesterday that drew about 200 people to a prized property across Assawoman Bay from Ocean City.

The husband-and-wife development team will pay $8.1 million for the 335-acre parcel of woods, marsh and fields with miles of waterfront along the bay and the St. Martin River. Proceeds of the sale go to three area churches, which have owned the land since 1966.

The New York couple left a $250,000 deposit and requested anonymity until the sale closes in about 75 days, said Doug Marshall Jr., an Eastern Shore auctioneer who conducted the sale.

"They are interested in long-term development, and they don't want their competitors to know their business," Marshall said.

While several helicopters hovered overhead, the auction opened with more than 75 bidders among the spectators. Bidding continued for about an hour until the New Yorkers beat back a strong challenge from a Washington developer bidding by phone, Marshall said.

"The 75 bidders narrowed to 10 really aggressive bidders," said Crystal Wright, spokeswoman for Marshall Auction Marketing Co., Inc. "Within the final, frenzied minutes, it was a showdown between two, one bidding anonymously by phone. I guess it was the day of the anonymous."

The sale will prove to be a boon for three local churches, who "will now be well endowed and able to grow this money," Wright said.

The congregations of St. Paul by the Sea in Ocean City, Zion Church in Bishopville and Salem United Church in nearby Selbyville, Del., have waited 40 years to sell the property, until the death of the last farmer who worked the land.

"An enormous amount of people saw the story about the auction in The Baltimore Sun and were bidding because they knew the money would be given to churches," Marshall said.

Jack Burgage, a Worcester County developer who owns an adjacent farm, had hoped to add to his property.

"It went for more than we were prepared to pay," he said. "But, it went for a good cause."

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