The Rev. Darius Pridgen thought his True Bethel Baptist Church had landed a great deal for a prominent East Side property over the weekend, but his hopes were dashed late Monday when the seller rejected the church’s high bid for the former Sattler’s Department store property.
True Bethel on Saturday had emerged as the apparent winner in the public auction for the former Sattler’s property, offering $250,000 for the 5.25-acre property at 998 Broadway.
Despite inquiries the day before and the presence of other potential bidders at the auction – one of whom opened at $200,000 before dropping out – no one else put in an offer. So the big inner-city church, one of the largest in Buffalo with over 3,000 members, was declared the high bidder, said Cash Cunningham of Cash Realty & Auctions, who conducted the sale.
But the church can’t claim victory yet. The property’s current owner, Maryland-based Karnack Development LLC, is under some pressure from its lender – an unidentified large North Carolina bank, likely either Bank of America Corp. or BB&T Corp. – to sell the land and the 90,000-square-foot building on it to pay off a loan.
The loan is not in foreclosure, but Cunningham said the auction would have been a short sale anyway, likely yielding less than the total amount owed, but enough to satisfy the lender. However, both Karnack and the bank rejected the church’s bid Monday as insufficient and are returning the $50,000 deposit.
“The principal is not as reasonable as the banker, but the banker is driving the train,” Cunningham said. “The lender could exert a lot more pressure than they have. The lender has been willing to work with this guy.”
Now Cunningham is trying to get Karnack and the bank to come back with a counteroffer to keep the discussions with True Bethel moving. He said he had previously expected the auction to come in at $500,000 to $600,000.
“True Baptist bid at good faith. We’re trying now to get the lender and the principal to give a reasonable counteroffer to True Bethel,” he said. “We felt that was low as well, and we were very surprised to see that we didn’t have more interest. If there were anyone else, any developer that would have attended the auction, I’m sure it would have gone for more than it did.”
But Pridgen isn’t happy, calling it “disingenuous” for Karnack to put the property up for auction, knowing the minimum amount it would accept but not starting the auction at that level, and then dismissing the offer it got.
“I just hope we’re not being used as a pawn to try to get higher offers,” said Pridgen, pastor of the church and a Buffalo Common Council member.
And he wouldn’t commit to agreeing to anything higher. “I don’t think we’re going to be interested in paying much more than we did,” he said. “I’m just hoping that it wasn’t a type of move to see what they could get and then offer it to the market. Otherwise, it’ll taint any future auctions on that site.”
True Bethel wants the site to expand its religious ministries and affiliated business interests but hasn’t decided exactly what it will do if it wins the day, Pridgen said.
One option is to combine its two Buffalo sites and relocate the main church to the Sattler’s property, across the street from the Broadway Market. But it could also just use it as a fourth location.
Primarily based at 907 E. Ferry St., True Bethel has additional worship spaces at 472 Swan St. at Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, and on South Avenue in Niagara Falls.
Pridgen said the church wants to reuse the existing building and possibly add on to it, but “it’s really going to depend, after our discovery process of really looking at the structure, of what the structure can sustain.”
In the meantime, “our plans are not solidified yet,” said Pridgen. “It’s very difficult to dream without possession.”
The property originally housed the main store for Sattler’s, which was founded in 1889 by John G. Sattler. There he opened a one-room shoe store in his mother’s home at the site of what would later become the department store. It expanded in 1926, became a full-line department store, and by the 1950s was a major retailer, with additional stores in the Boulevard Mall in Amherst, the Thruway Plaza in Cheektowaga and the Seneca Mall in West Seneca.
But the company was beset by changes to the retail industry and the decline of the Broadway-Fillmore area, leading to Sattler’s eventual bankruptcy, the sale of the company and the closing of the main store in 1982. The building was torn down in 1987 and sat vacant for years before Kmart built a new store in 1991, which in turn closed in 2002. The building, located next to a new 15,000-square-foot Aldi’s market, has been empty since then.
Pridgen said the church had attempted to buy the property a few years ago but was unsuccessful. “We thought it was a fine location, given its history and business potential,” he said. “We just see great potential in the Broadway Market area.”
Right now, he said, the property is essentially a blank canvas, but the church certainly intends “to ensure it has some life within the next year.”
“The church is very excited to be in that neighborhood more than to have that building,” he said. “It is about that neighborhood and being able to do ministry in that neighborhood and to do potentially what we have done on East Ferry, and really just being a help to the neighborhood.”