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Bidding for a slice of the big apple.

Lot 18 was in demand, and the stakes kept jumping. The bidding war quickly drove the price up to $760,000 from a reserve of $145,000.

"Do I hear $800,000? 800....over there!" bellowed the auctioneer, a ribbon of sweat on his forehead.

"$900?" he asked the crowd.

The lot in question is 50 by 100 feet, located in Manhattan on Amsterdam Avenue at 152nd Street. Three men seated in the back of the Javits Center auditorium added their running commentary to the drama:

"Did you see that? That guy in the corner--he's gonna get it!"

"The amount of money these people have, forget it."

"This guy wants it I'm telling you!"

"No way. It'll go to the guy on the left. Just watch."

Their fervor gave last week's public auction the feel of a horse race, where spectators have a stake in the outcome. Yet most of the time the event resembled a tennis match, all eyes shifting back and forth between sparring bidders. 139 city-owned vacant lots were sold at this auction, which lasted all day.

The audience, echoing the lots themselves, was a mixed bag of bidders and spectators. The latter certainly outnumbered the former.

"The money these guys have. Forget it."

"Is that a developer over there? The guy in the suit?"

"I'm in construction, and let me tell you. There's nothing you can do with that lot. It's a CFD!"

The winning bidder for Lot 18 must abide by a Community Facility Use requirement--meaning no commercial uses are allowed. This befuddled many in the crowd.

"Must be a church buying this. They have deep pockets," said one man.

After hitting $900,000, the bidding cracked the six-figure ceiling. The crowd was either aghast or in awe--or both. People exchanged shocked looks. Even the spotters (people stationed around the room assigned to wave at the auctioneer when someone bid) looked bemused. One man in a blue blazer sitting in a folding chair by the aisle yelled "whoa!".

"$1 million dollars!" said auctioneer Ed Elerbee.

Lot 18 fetched $1.12 million.

As he crossed the auditorium to secure the sale-- proving that one can back up their bid is a crucial part of these auctions, since nobody is screened in advance--the crowd stirred.

"Looks like a developer to me," said Joan Tracy, a residential broker from Brooklyn. Tracy was there with a friend, who was also not bidding.

The winning bidder vanished behind a curtain off to the left, and the auctioneer paused. Nothing would happen until this sale was confirmed.

"This lot is secured," said the auctioneer.

"Next lot, number 19. Minimum upset price $148,500. Do I hear $148,500? In the back," yelled the auctioneer, a heavyset man with white hair and a long beard.

The morning was not without its share of oddities. One man spent $1,000 for a vacant lot 12 inches wide that divides two buildings in Brooklyn. Another bidder secured a 6 by 76 foot lot wedged behind four apartment buildings in Brooklyn. He paid $11,000 for this lot, which has no street frontage or direct access from any street. It's basically a long hole.

"What would anyone want with that? He must own one of the buildings next to that lot.

"You ought to go talk to him. Find out what he expects to do with that," said Tracy, laughing.

By the end of the day, 14 lots were passed up by bidders according to a Department of Citywide Services spokesman. The last city auction took place July 2001.

"Historically, these auctions are very well attended, and this one was no exception," said DCS spokesman Warner Johnston.

Johnston could not confirm any auction data as the DCS takes two to three weeks to compile this information. The next public auction is scheduled for the fall.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:land auction
Author:Chapman, Parke
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jun 12, 2002
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