DANVILLE — Vincent Rizzo’s dream of building a $100 million shopping plaza and retirement community on Route 111 was shattered yesterday when the 49-acre property went up for auction.
A dozen people gathered off the edge of the highway — some holding checks — as auctioneer James St. Jean asked for bids, officially marking the end of Rizzo’s seven-year effort to transform the large wooded site into a retail and residential mecca.
Only minutes after the auction began, it was over.
Most in the small crowd just stood and stared, not saying a word as St. Jean, standing at a podium on the roadside, requested $300,000.
People’s United Bank representative Christopher Droznick then bid $560,000, bringing the auction to a close. The group quietly dispersed.
People’s foreclosed on the property last year and decided to keep title to the site, but Droznick said he could not comment on the bank’s plans. Two previous auctions were postponed last summer as the bank negotiated with Rizzo.
Rizzo, a Plaistow resident and owner of Ozzir Properties, had proposed a large retail complex he said would attract at least a dozen businesses and create more than 550 jobs — a proposal town officials hoped would provide an economic boost to their community. Some residents worried the complex would be detrimental to Danville’s small-town character.
The project had been before town boards for several years and was close to receiving final approval when any progress came to a halt last year after People’s began foreclosure proceedings. Trees had been cleared and construction was to have started this spring.
“What can you do?” said Rizzo as the auction began. “We spent seven years on this. The bank came in and gave us six months, and then that was it.”
Rizzo tried to block the foreclosure. He had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manchester. He has said he made loan payments to the bank, but it would not grant his extension requests.
When Rizzo asked for a year’s extension, he was given six months. He said he owed about $1.2 million but the bank wanted immediate payment. People’s representatives have refused to comment. About $12,000 in back taxes is owed on the property, St. Jean said.
Rizzo proposed building the 50,000-square-foot Crown Plaza. The project called for construction of a restaurant and lounge, a midsize grocery store, dry cleaning shop, Chinese takeout restaurant, pharmacy, a gas station and convenience store on 37.7 acres.
An adjacent 300,000-square-foot retirement community, The Royal Crest of Danville, was expected to serve more than 200 people on a second, 11.3-acre site. The project included a medical clinic, which received conditional approval from the town Planning Board in September 2011. The two properties are assessed at $216,900.
Ozzir worked closely with town officials, including selectmen and the Planning Board, according to Selectmen’s Chairman Shawn O’Neil.
“The town put a lot of time into this,” O’Neil said previously. “I thought it would be a great project for the town.”
There were no town officials at the auction.
Some people, like Michelle Rohulich, 60, of Kingston, weren’t interested in buying the land. She just wanted to see the auction.
“It seemed like a good idea,” she said of the project. “It will be interesting to see what happens to it.”
Abutters Ray Kibbee, 71, and his wife, Carol Johnson, were prepared to put down a $25,000 deposit on the property but held off when they heard the asking price.
“That made our decision easy,” Johnson said.
The Kacie Lane couple hoped to purchase the land as an investment but didn’t want to spend more than $260,000. When Droznick offered $560,000, they concluded the bidding was just too rich for them.
“That’s about double what we wanted to pay,” Kibbee said. “I’m disappointed.”
The couple said it will only be a matter of time before the site is sold to a developer.
“Something is going to go in there at some point,” Kibbee said.