A spirited auction broke out on the McLennan County courthouse steps late Tuesday morning, and when the bidding ended at $90,000 nearly an hour later, investor Allah Bakhsh had outdueled Cameron Morris for possession of the building at 600 Elm Ave.
Bakhsh, commenting through his son, Brett Bakhsh, said he owns every other piece of property fronting historic Elm Avenue in the 600 block, and he was determined to add the two-story structure on the corner to his inventory.
He said he has no immediate plans for the edifice that was built in the late 1800s as S.H. Clinton Farm Implements and Hardware, but likely will refurbish it sometime in the future as development along Elm Avenue picks up steam.
“No, he did not expect to spend $90,000, but I guess he has that much in his budget. He just told me to keep going,” said Brett Bakhsh, who watched the offers climb with the temperature as a dozen registered bidders and at least that many more witnesses crowded around Deputy McLennan County Constable Harold Holder, who conducted the sale.
“I did not believe we would have that many bidders, and I did not expect a sale price this high,” said Holder, who, like many in the crowd, often wiped perspiration from his face as the battle continued between Morris, Bakhsh and Ronald Harris Sr.
Morris owns Standard Hat Works, 1826 Circle Road, an iconic business that traces its founding to 1909. He joined the bidding about halfway through the sale Tuesday, and said he had hoped to relocate the maker of custom felt hats to Elm Avenue.
His top bid reached $86,000, and he said considering potential renovation costs, he could not go higher. The building he leases on Circle Road soon will fall as the Texas Department of Transportation widens Interstate 35.
“I’m still trying to find something that would fit our needs and that is affordable,” Morris said. “I’d like to have an old, rustic, historic-looking building since this store has been around 106 years. I thought this site would fit its personality.”
The brick building, which served much of the 20th century as a furniture store, is one of the largest and most architecturally notable structures on Elm Avenue. The Texas Historical Commission last year used the building as the subject for a rendering of how old buildings could be restored through the Texas Main Street program.
Ronald Harris Sr. was able to hang with the high bidders Tuesday until his final offer of $61,000. He oversees a group called the Throwback Student Athletic Organization, which teaches life skills to youngsters.
“I’ve been doing this eight years, and we use several facilities, but we really need a home base,” said Harris, discussing his interest in the site on Elm Avenue, which he thought could become an ideal gathering place.
He said private donors support Throwback, whose goal is to “develop the minds” of young people.
“We urge them to say, ‘Yes, sir, and ‘No, sir,’ and to pull their pants up and to mow yards for the elderly,” Harris said. “We get them involved in sports to keep things fun, but that makes up only a fraction of what we do.”
Brett Bakhsh said his father, originally from Pakistan, owns seven rental houses and several pieces of commercial property. He owns the Salvage Carpet building at 618 Elm Ave. and the business itself, said Bakhsh, who develops property for his father.
Nancy Grayson, owner of Lula Jane’s Bakery on Elm Avenue; her husband, Bob; and Dallas artist Dan Brook bought the blighted 10,000-square-foot building in 2013 in a tax sale for $5,117 and made plans for an art studio and gallery complex.
Those plans did not work out because the partners had “different goals,” Nancy Grayson said, adding the auction was a way to dissolve the partnership and to give someone else the opportunity to own a historic building on a significant thoroughfare.
She said she was surprised that the structure, which is valued at $15,350 by the McLennan County Appraisal District, fetched $90,000.
With the portion she and her husband receive, the Graysons will pay attorney’s fees and the cost of having architectural plans drawn up for the project that never materialized. She said she also will consider other opportunities in East Waco.
“I just hope the individual who bought it will do something with it rather than sit on it,” she said. “It would be great to have a building on Elm (Avenue) that is active and productive.”