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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hillhigh Resort sold; future unclear

Thursday, September 22, 2011

One Wilson Auctioneers' employee looks for bids in the Hillhigh Resort lobby, while another monitors online bids. The historic Horseshoe Bend resort and golf course sold for $250,000 at a Sept. 14 absolute auction, a price many spectators found shockingly low. The buyer, Cooper Realty of Melbourne, has not decided whether the resort will remain in operation.
Following a Sept. 14 absolute auction, Horseshoe Bend's historic Hillhigh Resort Hotel and Golf Course has a new owner.

But the buyer, Cooper Realty of Melbourne, did not reveal whether the resort will continue in operation.

"I understand what kind of market we are in. We deal with it every day, in auctions around the state," said Joe Wilson, of Wilson Auctioneers. "But this is a great opportunity."

Wilson was encouraging bidders, as he prepared to auction off the complex.

"I live on the golf course," said Bob Warichak. "I'm hoping for something positive to happen."

Warichak was among more than 80 people on hand in the lobby of the hotel, most long time Horseshoe Bend residents, hoping for a buyer who would revitalize the once successful resort. Others were viewing the auction online but, as the 10 a.m. start approached, only a handful of individuals and companies were registered to bid.

Wilson Auctioneers of Hot Springs was hired to sell the Hillhigh property by the estate of long time owner Carlie Smith, after a long battle to renovate the hotel and attract vacationers from the region.

The company tried to auction the properties two ways, to determine the highest price.

It first auctioned the hotel property, golf course and undeveloped land separately.

After those bids were finalized, it entertained offers to buy all three properties as a whole.

The auction began with the sale of the 72 acres with a lake, which could be subdivided into 11 lots, for future development.

Wilson's pleas for an offer on the undeveloped land went unheeded for some time, when a bid for $700 an acre was finally made.

"We're not playing games," said Wilson. "This property is going to sell."

Bidding stalled at $800 an acre, however, and, before Wilson brought the gavel down, he made one last pitch for a higher bid.

"Guys, that's too cheap ($800 an acre) and you know it. You will wake up tomorrow and kick yourself," Wilson declared.

But the 72 acres went for just $57,600.

The golf course brought $56,000.

As the hotel, restaurant and health spa auction began, Wilson suggested an opening bid of $500,000. When the initial bid was $50,000 and the winning bid turned out to be $80,000, spectator Warichak exclaimed, "Unbelievable!"

One bidder was the winner of all three parcels during the individual auctions, bidding a total of $193,600.

Bids failed to pick up much steam as the auction to sell the entire complex for one price progressed.

Through Wilson's urging and coaxing, the bid reached $195,000. Just as he said, "Going once...," a $200,000 bid was made, keeping the auction alive.

Wilson suggested a break in the bidding, to allow interested parties to confer and, when bidding resumed, Wilson told the crowd, "I have a $250,000 bid."

After asking if anyone was going to top it, bidder number 162, Cooper Realty, was declared the winner.

The company's $250,000 bid totaled $275,000, once a 10 percent "buyers premium," which goes to the auctioneer, was added in.

As his three partners went to sign papers, Horseshoe Bend residents shook the hand of Daniel Taylor of Cooper Realty, and Hillhigh employees gathered around to express hope the resort will remain open, and their jobs will continue.

The News asked Taylor if his company came to the auction intending to buy.

"Not really, I am kind of surprised," Taylor replied, adding, "It was a good deal and we decided to give it a shot."

Cooper Realty has been involved in the development and marketing of Melbourne's Coopers Hawk Golf Course.

As to the company's plan for the resort, Taylor said company owners, Ben, Doyle and Joe Cooper, will have to meet to decide whether to keep the property open, and whether to make a major investment to renovate and market the facility.

While the estate of Carlie Smith tried to upgrade the aging property and attract guests, hotel employees indicated the poor economy had reduced out of town reservations and, even, local support.

Gladys Raney of Wilson Auctioneers had expressed confidence, before the action, that its efforts to advertise the resort and stir up interest had produced a good response, "from a lot of serious, true investors, who want to make a long range investment in the facility."

Wilson seemed frustrated at the lack of competitive bidding during the auction.

Afterward, Horseshoe Bend residents expressed hope that having an Izard County owner, as opposed to a large, out of state corporation, will lead to a new effort to return the resort to its glory days.

Taylor indicated his company's pre-auction inspection of the facility revealed "a lot of work and a lot of money will be needed," to turn the resort around.

Cooper Realty has bought the property free and clear.

The Smith estate is responsible for paying off bank loans and other debts incurred before the sale.

The new owner must close on the property within 30 days.

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