Downtown building owner signs agreement to buy neighboring Vegas Block
Remi Hinxhia, who owns a restaurant and three other buildings in downtown Concord, will buy the blighted Vegas Block at the corner of North Main Street and Loudon Road.
At a public auction for the building yesterday, Hinxhia was the high bidder for the five-story brick building that used to house the Rooster Convenience Store and Siam Orchid restaurant. Bent over a folding table on the sidewalk outside the Vegas Block, he signed a purchase-and-sales agreement to buy it for $975,000. He’ll also pay nearly $100,000 in back taxes on the property at 148-158 N. Main St.
The property is next door to another of Hinxhia’s buildings, which houses 27 upper-story apartments and retail shops including Bead It! and Runner’s Alley.
“I was doing it to protect my other investment,” said Hinxhia, 41.
The new owner said he’ll finance the purchase on his own, without grants or other government assistance. After the auction, Hinxhia said it’s too early to know exactly what he’ll do with the building, but he hopes to clean up the property. The building has 32 upper-story apartments and several vacant storefronts on the street level.
“Refurbish the restaurant,” he said. “Refurbish the store, the apartments.”
Four bidders registered for yesterday’s auction, run by James St. Jean of James R. St. Jean Auctioneers. The building’s previous owner, Emin Halilovic, was not present; David Himelfarb, an attorney for McCarter & English, was there to represent the bank that held Halilovec’s mortgage.
“David, we’re going to sell this one,” St. Jean said, as the price climbed above $800,000.
Bidding lasted less than 10 minutes, while St. Jean officiated from a small podium in front of one of the vacant storefronts.
“Cha-ching, cha-ching,” he announced when Hinxhia won the auction.
Halilovic bought the Vegas Block for $2.45 million in June 2008, according to city records; it is now valued at $1.73 million in the city’s assessing database. At the time he bought the building, Halilovic didn’t know the heat had been shut off because the previous owner was more than $20,000 behind on his bills to Concord Steam. Tenants also complained of inadequate hot water, elevator service and outdated windows.
A Merrimack County Superior Court judge fined that owner more than $15,000 for those failures in 2008. In 2010, a judge ruled Halilovic would not have to pay damages for the days he also left his tenants without heat and hot water in the falls of 2008 and 2009, but he would have to pay his Concord Steam bill one month early every year. In the years since, Halilovic has not kept up with his property taxes and has been required to fix several code violations in the building.
At yesterday’s auction, St. Jean told the small crowd of bidders and local business owners that the next buyer would be responsible for about $95,000 total in unpaid taxes and water bills on top of the purchase price.
The building is also on the police department’s “radar screen,” Lt. Timothy O’Malley said in a phone interview yesterday. Since Jan. 1, 2011, O’Malley said the Concord police have responded to 740 calls at the Vegas Block. Those calls amounted to nearly 1,000 hours of officers’ time, he said, and they resulted in 176 offense reports or arrests. Those incidents included calls for assaults, drunkenness, theft and destruction of property.
The Vegas Block “is well-known to our officers, and we do go there frequently,” O’Malley said. “I want to be fair to the people here, they’re not all bad people. But we do have some issues there.”
The police also find people in Concord using that address who might not be tenants there, O’Malley said.
“There was an issue with squatters using the apartments in there or staying with friends, and that address is attached to a lot of people who were coming and going,” O’Malley said.
Hinxhia said he needed to consult his lawyer before he could say what will happen to the upstairs tenants. There is no clear count on how many people live in the building right now; Hinxhia estimated the number was less than 10.
Nina Mujakovic, the former property manager and Halilovic’s partner, told the Monitor earlier this month that property taxes were too high for the pair to keep up with the building’s costs.
“The city found every possible reason to make his life miserable as a landlord,” she said then.
Halilovic also owns the building at 76-82 N. Main St., where the pair runs Old Europe restaurant. Yesterday, Mujakovic had little comment in reaction to the auction.
“I wish (Hinxhia) the best of luck,” she said when reached by phone. “That’s all I can say.”
Under his real estate company, Associated Enterprises Inc., Hinxhia owns four other properties in Concord: the building at 132½-146 N. Main St. next to the Vegas Block; a building at 58-68 N. Main St. that houses the Concord campus of New England College and his sister Theodora’s restaurant, the Gyro House; a building at 9-15 Depot St. with tenants that include the restaurant Angelina’s; and a parking lot on Low Avenue.
The combined value of those properties is more than $3.7 million, according to the city’s assessing database. His restaurant, Remi’s Place Pizza & Restaurant, is located in rented space at 62 Pleasant St.
“All my storefronts are full,” Hinxhia said.
Hinxhia said he recently noticed bedbugs in three of his upper-story apartments in the building that abuts the Vegas Block, but he said he hopes to avoid those problems now that he owns the neighboring property.
“I like to clean them up,” he said of his buildings.
Hinxhia is current on all property taxes for his other downtown buildings, said Michael Jache, the city’s treasurer and tax collector. Michael Santa, the city’s code administrator, said his department has never cited Hinxhia for a violation at one of his buildings.
“At any rate, he seems to be willing and ready to work with the city, and that is a good thing,” Santa said.
One of the Vegas Block’s residents, Dianne Bergstrom, watched the auction while smoking a cigarette on the doorstep. Bergstrom, 66, said she moved into the building six years ago. Like many tenants in the building, she uses Section 8 housing vouchers to subsidize her rent. She called Halilovic “a good landlord,” but she said he couldn’t keep the building in good condition.
“Emin, he never wants to fix nothing. . . . I don’t think he could afford it,” she said.
Rosemary Heard, president of CATCH Neighborhood Housing, was also a bystander at the auction – but she wasn’t bidding.
“I toyed with the idea,” she said.
While she decided the project wasn’t right for the nonprofit, Heard said she hopes Hinxhia does maintain apartments in the Vegas Block.
“Clearly, we don’t want to see people losing their homes. . . . I’m always eager to see what happens with housing developments around the city,” she said.
Brian Colsia was bidding at the auction, but he dropped out of the running when the price climbed above $750,000. Colsia is the owner and manager of Waterway Realty LLC in Manchester.
“I look for values that makes sense,” Colsia said. “That building made sense at about really $650,000 to $700,000. It needs about $500,000 (in renovations). The people inside were saying they had bedbugs, they had cockroaches.”
But Hinxhia has yet to go inside the building himself.
“It’s still early,” he said.
According to the purchase-and-sales agreement, the sale will close in 30 days.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)