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Auction of college site approaches

Agent: Wide interest in Bradford campus

The former Bradford College in Haverhill, vacant for seven years, is up for auction, with Sept. 18 the deadline for bids.

Interest in the campus --which includes eight buildings -- has been "heavy and national," said Justin Manning of J.J. Manning Auctioneers of Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod, which is conducting the sealed-bid auction.

"We are getting calls from all over the country and from all different groups," he said. "That's the way an auction works."

Bradford, a liberal arts college that opened its doors as Bradford Academy in 1803, closed in May 2000 due to financial problems. The property was purchased in 2002 by GFI Partners, a real estate development firm, for $10.1 million.

Rezoning a portion of the property in 2003 allowed GFI to develop housing on about 17 acres at the rear of the former campus. But efforts to find a buyer for another 20 acres at the front of the property, which is zoned for educational use, have been unsuccessful.

Several near deals fell through, including a potential sale to Zion Bible College of Barrington, R.I., in December. Zion said the amount of money and work needed to bring the property up to par was too great.

Barbara Greenwood, copresident of the Bradford College Neighborhood Association, said her group favors an educational use for the property.

"It's been seven years," she said. "Why should we give up now and just let anything happen to that campus?"

Greenwood said the association has kept in contact with Zion, which remains a potential buyer.

"Zion is actively pursuing its financing," Greenwood said. "It is still very interested in the campus and we hope it happens."

Zion Bible College officials could not be reached to comment on their plans.

Greenwood said the neighborhood association has explored alternatives to educational uses for the property, but the "infrastructure doesn't call for that. It calls for what was originally intended."

Any use other than educational would require a zoning change by the Haverhill City Council.

Manning, the auctioneer, said GFI's partner and the majority owner of the property, Angelo, Gordon & Co. of New York, contacted him about six months ago to arrange the auction. "They decided this is the quickest and best way to end incurring costs to them," he said.

Tours of the campus for prospective bidders are today and next Wednesday. Sealed bids, accompanied by a certified check or wire transfer for $100,000, are due Sept. 18. The winning bidder will be notified Sept. 19. Closing date would be Nov. 5.

While Angelo, Gordon & Co. doesn't have to accept a bid, Manning said, he expects that the investment firm will. "It would be foolish to go to all the time and expense" of holding an auction "and not sell to the highest bidder, as long as it is reputable," he said.

Andrew Jacobs, a director at Angelo, Gordon & Co., said, "We don't have to sell it. But my fingers are crossed and I'm very optimistic."

For more information on the auction, visit jjmanning.com.

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