The historic Shenandoah Hotel building in downtown Martinsburg failed to sell at auction Wednesday after bids fell well below the owner Benson Fogle’s $550,000 asking price.
“It’s a blessing and a curse in a way to keep it,” Fogle said after the auction in what once was the hotel’s chandiliered lobby.
In the noon hour auction, Al Espinoza of Potomac, Md., bid $185,000 to buy the property at North Queen and West Martin streets, but Fogle, also from Potomac, confirmed afterward he did not accept that offer.
Fogle said he purchased the hotel for $180,000 after it failed to sell at auction in 1999 and had invested $2.3 million in the property.
Espinoza also was the high bidder for another building Fogle owns at 115-119 E. Martin St., but Fogle did not accept Espinoza’s $115,000 offer for that property, either.
Espinoza was among six or seven people who registered for the auction, which was held by the Transon Fox auction company.
Espinoza said after the auction that he was interested in purchasing the properties as investments. In the hotel auction, Espinoza outbid Michael Chan, who owned the Peking Restaurant at the hotel for many years. The restaurant moved to 139 S. Queen St. after Fogle purchased the building.
Jeff Stein, a partner with Transon Fox, said after the auction that the low bids were not surprising, citing the number of vacant storefronts in downtown Martinsburg and overall lack of activity.
“We still think there’s a lot of value in both buildings,” Stein said.
Stein said Martinsburg’s downtown has “tremendous character,” but agreed it is not unlike many communities across the nation that have struggled to keep “Main Street” alive in the current marketplace.
Fogle said he wasn’t disappointed or surprised that the auction failed to attract a buyer willing to pay his $550,000 asking price, but thought there was a chance his other apartment rental-retail property would sell given that it is currently producing more than $30,000 annually in net income.
Going forward, the hotel will still be listed for sale and Fogle said he intends to regroup and continue to try to find prospective tenants, particularly for the building’s restaurant space.
Before the auction, Fogle said the Shenandoah Hotel building was unique in his more than 50 years of real estate ventures in that he has struggled to find tenants for the property.
Built in the 1920s by community investors, the hotel, its restaurant and ballroom once was a civic and social center for Martinsburg. Former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy visited and actors Debbie Reynolds and Robert Mitchum once stayed at the five-story landmark on the corner of Martin and Queen streets.
Fogle purchased the building in 2000 from Tim Luwis when white paint was flaking from the building’s cornices and trim, and broken window panes allowed pigeons inside.
Aside from halting obvious exterior decay, Fogle said he had the hotel building roof repaired and asbestos removed, and several other improvements were made to support the operation of a restaurant or catering business.
Fogle also had the Shenandoah name restored to the building, which had been renamed the Gateway Inn in the 1960s. The hotel ceased operations in the 1980s.