Real Estate

Fifth Season Banquet Center Sells for $260K

MINERAL RIDGE, Ohio — After two years of sitting empty, the former Fifth Season Banquet Center has a new owner.

Some 25 bidders gathered Monday evening at the banquet center at 1400 N. Canfield-Niles Road in Mineral Ridge, walking through the kitchen and bistro area, as well as surveying tables holding stacks of plates, boxes of drinkware and silverware and other assorted restaurant equipment. At 6 p.m., Dean Gearhart, owner of Hartland Machinery Co. Inc. in Portersville, Pa., opened bidding on the property at $500,000.

Only two actually bid on the 9,837-square-foot property, but not right away. Gearhart quickly worked his way down to $175,000 before the first bidder responded. From there, the two bidders contended for the property, eventually reaching a top bid of $260,000 from investor James Vargo.

Gearhart turned to owners Ronnie and Ryan James to confirm the sale.

“Do it,” Ronnie James responded.

The sale of the property went about as expected, said Scott Lewis with Edward J. Lewis Inc., the broker for the property. Based on location and condition of the building, Lewis and the James family expected it to sell for $250,000 to $280,000, he said, plus the 10% buyer’s premium.

“It’s a great location and obviously there’s a history here with respect to it being a banquet center,” he said. “When you go through this auction process, it obviously generates a lot of excitement and it enables a buyer to get, what I think, is a pretty good price.”

Scott Lewis looks on as Dean Gearhart, auctioneer, reads the terms and conditions for the auction.

To build the same building now would cost about $110 per square foot, Lewis said. For the $260,000 price, Vargo got it for just under $30 per square foot, he said. “So he got a very good buy. Excellent piece of real estate,” Lewis said.

The Fifth Season sits on 1.87 acres with a 10,000-square-foot parking lot. The 6,312-square-foot banquet center area includes seating for 250.

The James family was happy to “make a deal and make this thing happen,” Lewis said. The real estate company had been trying to sell the property through traditional means for two years at a price of $500,000, which Lewis acknowledged is high for a restaurant.

“We actually had an alternative user who was going to buy it for a completely different use than a restaurant,” Lewis said. “He was going to pay a number higher than what this bidder paid, and we were at the point where we were going to get it under contract,” but the deal never materialized, he said. That’s when Lewis recommended the James family try selling at auction, he said.

“We’re very pleased that the auction process worked and we have begun using the auction process for what I refer to as ‘challenged properties;’ properties that have sat for a considerable period of time,” Lewis said.

The James family took over the banquet center in 2008, with the siblings assuming management of it after their father died. They hoped to get a little more, Ronnie James acknowledged, saying the reserve price was set at $300,000.

But neither of the brothers could keep the business going because they don’t live in town, he said. Ronnie lives in Cuyahoga Falls and Ryan, who owns and operates the Flat Iron Cafe in Cleveland, lives in Broadview Heights. Ronnie managed the Fifth Season Restaurant in Youngstown for 10 years after his father died, he said, but “I didn’t have the passion for it that he did.

“We’re happy,” he continued. “It’s a bit in taxes for sitting here empty and paying utilities to keep the pipes going.”

After the property sold, about 15 people remained to bid on the remaining equipment. The new owner, Vargo, owner of Vargo Investments, said he plans to court potential clients to come in and operate it as a banquet hall and a small bistro.

“I invest, and I look for people that want to invest in a community,” Vargo said. “If we get the proper management in here, they will do what they need to do. I invest in desirable pieces of property that will sustain a business that will stay in the community and go forward and last here 10, 15, 20, 30 years.”

Outside, he met Barry and Betty Garhammer, who were loading plates they had just purchased into the trunk of their car. In 1996, Betty and her brother, Theodore Terlesky, purchased the building for $110,000, according to documents from the Mahoning County Auditor.

At the time it was just a beer and wine drive-thru with a small lounge, but the siblings added on the space and operated the banquet center for 17 years before selling it to H&S Investments LLC for $565,000, according the Mahoning County Auditor.

An emotional Betty Garhammer thanked Vargo for committing to getting the banquet center up and running again, but offered a sincere plea.

“Just don’t tear it down,” she said. “I’m going to come visit you and make sure you take care of this place.”

Pictured above: James Vargo cast the winning bid of $260,000 for the former Fifth Season Banquet Center at 1400 N. Canfield-Niles Road in Mineral Ridge.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.