, Newburyport, MA

February 4, 2012

ENPRO buys fraser site

Cleanup company bids $940,000 for former automotive property

By Angeljean Chiaramida
Staff writer

SALISBURY— With a winning bid of $940,000, Newburyport-headquartered ENPRO Services Inc. scooped up the former Fraser Automotive property on Bridge Road at yesterday's bank foreclosure auction.

The auction, which included the 3.75-acre lot and 17,000-square-foot building with a combined value of about $1.8 million, was the second at the site since last July.

The property was forced back on the auction block after Stephen LaRoche, the winning bidder in July, couldn't pull together the financing to finalize the $975,000 purchase from Provident Bank, the mortgage holder, according to John McInnis, of John McInnis Auctioneers in Amesbury.

An ENPRO executive said although the company didn't take part in July's auction, it has been interested in the site.

Chief Operating Officer David Cowie said he and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Irving believe the property is valuable and well worth the bid price. He added that the site has been maintained well.

"You couldn't build that building today for that amount," Cowie said. "We've always had our eye on that place. It's a very nice property."

Founded in 1983, ENPRO is headquartered on Mulliken Way in Newburyport's business park. The environmental services company, which employs about 100, specializes in the remediation and cleanup of oil and other hazardous materials. It also has a vehicle maintenance facility on Route 1 in Newburyport. The company also has offices throughout New England: two in the Portland, Maine, area; two in Vermont and one in Pembroke, near Concord, N.H.

ENPRO handled last year's cleanup of more than four million sewer treatment disks that flooded out of a treatment plant in Hooksett, N.H., and into the Merrimack River. The disks made their way down the Merrimack and onto beaches all along the New England coast, from Maine to Martha's Vineyard. The bulk of the disks, however, were removed from local beaches in Seabrook, Salisbury and Plum Island.

The company was also hired to undertake the cleanup in parts of Vermont following the devastation resulting from tropical storm Irene in August.

Cowie said the company is still putting together its plans for the Salisbury site, but there are no plans to close its headquarters in Newburyport. It may, however, move its vehicle maintenance building on Route 1 in Newburyport to Salisbury if things work out right, he said.

"Our building on Route 1 is dated," Cowie said. "And we do need more office space; we're bursting at the seams at our corporate headquarters in the industrial park."

The former Fraser Automotive building has a large showroom with offices surrounding it, as well as space for offices on a second floor. In addition, the facility has several automotive repair bays.

The interior personal property once belonging to Fraser Automotive, including the office furniture and all the automotive-related tools, machinery and lifts, were not sold at yesterday's auction. That was a departure from the first auction, when all the personal property was sold to LaRoche for $88,000. LaRoche had planned to open a used car business on the site.

At the start of yesterday's auction, McInnis told the roughly three dozen people on hand that Provident Bank would entertain written offers for the personal property in its entirety after the real estate auction concluded. If there were no offers approved by the bank, another auction would be held for the contents, McInnis said.

Cowie, a customer of Provident Bank, said ENPRO is considering making an offer on the personal property, but company officials want to take a good look at it and speak with town officials first.

According to the terms of the auction, ENPRO must close on the deal within 30 days, but no sooner than 20 days, so the bank can deal with the personal property issue.

Fraser was current on his taxes when the site went up for auction last summer. Since then, however, taxes have fallen in arrears by more than $23,000, according to the municipal lien certificate included in the auction documents. The new owner is liable for those taxes, McInnis said yesterday.

McInnis said having the first foreclosure sale on a site falling through is rare. But he said when news of the re-auction was announced, he received numerous inquiries. He estimated about a dozen bidders registered with the required $25,000 check, allowing them to be included in yesterday's auction, with four people engaging in most of the bidding until ENPRO's bid won.

The site had been Fraser Pontiac/Buick/GMC before owner Chris Fraser, a third-generation auto dealer, sold the franchise back to General Motors in 2008, when the car industry in the country nearly crashed and burned. The business had been in Fraser's family since his grandfather founded it in Amesbury in 1924.

After selling the franchise, Fraser created a one-stop automotive center catering to car owners' every need. In addition to repair services, he sold used cars and also leased space to Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

Fraser said several factors, including the poor economy and plummeting real estate values, led him to file for bankruptcy last year.