After decades of family ownership, Rich’s Golf and Fun Center in Wyoming was repossessed in Friday’s Luzerne County sheriff sale due to a defaulted mortgage.
“It hasn’t been easy. It’s heartbreaking,” said Richard Ceccoli, 68, who had worked with his late father, Robert, to build up the Wyoming Avenue business that started with a driving range.
Mortgage holder Frederick H. Rutzke Farms Inc. reclaimed the two-parcel property at the sale because no bidders came forward to pay the $1.28 million plus taxes and costs it was willing to accept.
The lender set the minimum bid price below the $1.44 million owed on the mortgage, said West Chester attorney Michael G. Louis, who represented Frederick H. Rutzke. The property, which totals 22 acres, was appraised at $1.7 million several years ago, he said.
The county assessed the properties at a combined $506,000 for taxation purposes.
“We will entertain any offers. We’d let it go immediately for $1.28 million,” Louis said after the sale.
He warned the price may increase in the near future if the new owner is forced to hire a Realtor to market the property.
Louis held up a county map showing both adjoining parcels have a strip of land connecting to Wyoming Avenue, which also is Route 11.
Ceccoli had publicly claimed the parcels were landlocked and had no access to Wyoming Avenue, in part because his family still owns Victory Pig Pizza and a parking lot along the avenue in front of much of the golf center.
“There are two access points, so his statements were not accurate,” Louis said.
In response, Ceccoli said he was aware of only one access strip but said it is not wide enough to meet development requirements for ingress and egress.
Even if there are two connections to the avenue, Ceccoli said he’s confident the state transportation department won’t grant approval because two prior developers interested in the golf center property in the past were unsuccessful in their attempts to obtain government clearance.
“They can put it on the market as long as they want, but it’s not going to sell,” Ceccoli predicted.
Ceccoli said the money borrowed on the two seized properties, which were owned by his mother, Mary, did not go into his own pocket and instead helped fund a 1999 remodeling of the complex, which also includes two 18-hole miniature golf courses, bumper boats, batting cages, go-carts, a cafe and arcade.
Although he once considered himself well-off financially, Richard Ceccoli said he was forced to liquidate all his stocks and savings to keep the seasonal, weather-dependent business afloat. The mortgage holder did not want to restructure his payment structure to make it more affordable, he said.
“Now I’m back at the same financial situation I was when I was in high school,” Ceccoli said, thankful that Victory Pig Pizza still bustles.
He had previously hinted the golf center was “not done yet” and would “be back,” but he expressed no such vows Friday and described his sadness removing his personal belongings from the golf center in light of the sheriff sale.
“I miss my customers, all the little kids enjoying the place and coming in for birthday parties,” Ceccoli said.
Another landmark property — the Hotel Sterling Annex — was not auctioned as scheduled Friday.
The property will be listed in the Aug. 5 sheriff sale, officials said. County officials were unclear on the reason for the delay but said it may stem from a continued legal challenge over the mortgage interest amount that must be paid to clear the debt.
G2A-B Realty LLC, owned by Bear Creek Village resident George Asimakopoulos, bought the four-story annex on River Street in 2012 for a planned mixed commercial/residential project with views of the Susquehanna River that never materialized.
The structure’s boarded-up windows and neglected facade became more noticeable when the condemned adjacent Hotel Sterling was demolished in 2013.
The foreclosure sale was initiated by the Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp., an arm of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry that both sold the property and provided a mortgage to G2A-B in 2012, county records show.
The Greater Wilkes-Barre Development Corp. said G2A-B had ignored repeated demands to repay its loans with interest and now owes $138,600 plus tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, interest and costs. The chamber had loaned G2A-B $135,000 toward the $215,000 purchase.
Built in 1912 as an Elks Lodge and acquired by the Hotel Sterling ’s owners around World War II, the structure also has held offices and a college campus but has been vacant since plans to turn it into an art museum or gallery died in the early 1990s.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.