While others heard the roar of a commercial real estate crash, auctioneer Bill Fox heard virtual silence yesterday as he asked for a $10 million bid on Baltimore Travel Plaza. It amounted to the same thing.
Maryland National Bank bought the East Baltimore combination of 10-story hotel, dinner theater, restaurant, nightclub, fast-food emporium, truck stop and bus station for $2.85 million, far less than the $11.9 million a development team led by now-bankrupt Lawrence Rachuba owed the bank. The travel plaza's value was once estimated to be as high as $30 million.
"Who will give me $10 million?" Mr. Fox asked as he tried to open the bidding. "Awful quiet," he said.
The first bid was only $2 million for the 5-year-old complex, whose former owners called off a 1989 auction when the top bid reached only $12 million, saying they didn't want to give the place away.
"If you want to buy cheap real estate, don't sit there with your arms folded," Mr. Fox exhorted the crowd of business people who had come to the O'Donnell Street plaza near Interstate 95 for the midday auction. "At these prices, everyone in the room should be bidding."
The complex lost $1.5 million last year, $1.9 million the year before and $4.7 million in 1989.