The long-awaited auction of the properties at 3236-3244 Eastern Ave.—formerly Haussner’s restaurant—was postponed before it even began on May 23.
Alex Cooper Auctioneers, who ran the sale, informed the crowd of more than 40 attendees that the auction, scheduled for noon Thursday, was cancelled because of ongoing private negotiations with a buyer.
The 28,000-square-foot building, owned by developer Joseph Schultz since 2011, was put up for auction along with two adjacent row homes at 3232 and 3234 Eastern Ave.
They would have been offered individually and also as a group and sold in the manner that produced the greatest amount, according to Alex Cooper’s website.
The opening bid for each of the row homes, both described as “in need of renovation,” was $65,000 per property; the opening bid for the former restaurant building was slated to be $250,000.
Schultz also owns the former SEYA building, catty-corner from Haussner’s on the other side of Eastern Ave., which was also put on the auction block. That auction was cancelled as well.
Neither Alex Cooper nor George Schultz returned phone calls or emails from the Guide regarding the status of the properties.
The Haussner building has a storied history in Highlandtown.
The restaurant was known for its food, its art collection of more than 100 paintings (many of which were auctioned off at Sotheby’s when the restaurant closed in 1999), and lines of customers standing outside waiting to get in.
For years Haussner’s was one of Baltimore’s most well-known restaurants, its expansive menu serving both Old World specialties like sauerbraten, and 50’s-era, continental restaurant favorites such as surf and turf, shrimp cocktail and crab cakes.
The building today, which was closed to non-bidders about a half-hour before the auction, showed its age and significant wear and tear, including remnants of its last, short-lived incarnation as a restaurant, a steak house in 2005.
Local observers have hoped that Schultz, who bought the building in 2011 for $500,000, would find a buyer for some time now.
Schultz had tried to turn the building into a brew pub with Baltimore Washington Beer Works, but that deal fell through in 2012.
Amanda Karfakis, president of Vitamin, a marketing firm on Eastern Ave. across from the Haussner’s building, said she would like a mixed-use development with offices, retail, and restaurants.
“But a school could work as well, or a co-op,” she said. “Right now, Eastern Ave. is kind of a thruway, except for when the Creative Alliance is having an event. I’d like to see the space used in such a way to attract a lot of people and bring some life to the area.”
The auction drew numerous onlookers, many of whom were curious about the selling price. Some also came out to reminisce.
William Linsao, who lives in Canton and is the vice president of the commercial lending division of Colombo Bank in Little Italy, said he had eaten at Haussner’s regularly years ago, and wanted to have one last look.
W. Scott Hannon, an attorney who has lived in Highlandtown for three years, said he came out to the auction for two reasons:
“I wanted to get a feel for how it looked inside. I had seen the restaurant depicted in an episode of ‘Mad Men’ a few years ago.,” said Hannon. “I was disappointed that [Alex Cooper] wouldn’t let any non-bidders inside to see the place.”
Hannon added that he was curious what the building would sell for.
“I’m interested in investing elsewhere in the neighborhood, and I want to see how the market is doing. I would also like to see this part of Eastern Ave. improve,” he said.
Chris Ryer, director of the Southeast Community Development Corporation, noted that there is currently high interest in the neighborhood.
“If you look at the first, second, third, and fifth buildings on the north side of Eastern Ave., they are all under renovation now,” he said.
Ryer also noted the challenges that buildings in need of repair can present to sellers.
“If a building needs substantial work, and you have an interested tenant, you can more easily get a loan for the work, get the work done, and get the tenant in there. If you don’t have a tenant, it’s more challenging to obtain the financing and if you can’t obtain the financing, well, you can get stuck,” Ryer explained.
Linsao says he thinks now is a good time to sell a building like Haussner’s.
“Momentum is starting to pick up again,” he said.
Linsao credited the market uptick to an influx of Hopkins residents who make East Baltimore, and increasingly Highlandtown, their home.
“Johns Hopkins Hospital is a huge influence on the community, and the Hopkins influence is moving through Highlandtown now,” he said.
Ryer, who attended the auction, said he’d love to see the former Haussner’s building redeveloped.
“One idea I’ve heard come up is a market hall, where multiple vendors share the rent: something like the food hall at Belvedere Square,” the 100,000-square-foot retail, restaurant, and food market complex across the street from the Senator Theater, just south of Towson on York Road.
“I also thought the brew pub idea was a good one. The neighborhood loves the idea of a brew pub, and the size of the Haussner building is perfect for a restaurant and brewing tanks and equipment,” Ryer said. “It makes sense.”
by Danielle Sweeney