September 14, 2010

Last-minute bid made for lighthouse

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The bidding continues for Ram Island Ledge Light. A new potential buyer for the lighthouse emerged Monday afternoon, minutes before the online auction was to close.

Someone known only by the nickname "arakiran" offered $185,000 for the lighthouse at 2:50 p.m., 10 minutes before the auction was set to end. Until then, the lighthouse and ledge off Cape Elizabeth appeared certain to go to Dr. Jeffrey Florman, a neurosurgeon from Windham, for $180,000.

Florman placed his last bid Friday after winning a coin flip with a local developer who appeared at the time to be his only remaining rival.

What he didn't know was that a new bidder registered Friday to join the auction, which opened June 30. The U.S. General Services Administration confirmed that "arakiran" registered for its auction Friday, but would not say who it is.

The surprise offer means that Florman and any other bidders have until 3 p.m. today to offer at least $190,000. If no one does, "arakiran" will win.

"It just blows me away," Robert Muller said of the new bid.

Muller, of Brunswick, solicited pledges on social-networking websites in hopes of buying and preserving the lighthouse as a community-run enterprise. But he expected the lighthouse to sell for about $70,000 and couldn't keep up with the bidding war that developed.

Muller said his public, grass-roots effort helped draw media attention to the auction, and the publicity in such cities as Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., has drawn more than the usual lighthouse aficionados to the auction.

"This was really under the average person's radar. Now it's made national news," said Muller.

The 77-foot-tall lighthouse tower stands on a wind- and wave-swept ledge at the entrance to Portland Harbor. The ledge is under water at high tide and the lighthouse is often inaccessible.

"Most lighthouses that are in a much better use category go for maybe $70,000 or $100,000," Muller said.

Florman did not return messages left at his office Monday, and it's unclear whether he will raise the offer again. He would have to bid at least $5,000 more than "arakiran." He has said he doesn't have any specific plans for the lighthouse, if he wins the auction.

Florman entered his latest bid after he and Arthur Girard, a local real estate developer, flipped a coin to end their bidding war. Both men had said their primary motivation was to keep ownership of the lighthouse in Maine.

They appeared to be the only willing buyers left after a third bidder, nicknamed "tugdocto," stopped bidding at $160,000.

The 105-year-old lighthouse is being sold by the General Services Administration, which took title from the Coast Guard. While the future owner can develop new uses for the tower, and must pay to maintain it, the Coast Guard will continue to maintain the light and the foghorn to keep mariners away from the dangerous ledge. Future uses of the lighthouse will be limited by historic-preservation guidelines.

Muller said he knew many of the bidders for the lighthouse, but "arakiran's" identity is a mystery. The nickname, which may be a reference to the city Arak in Iran, has been used in at least one other online auction of government property.

"Arakiran" was an unsuccessful bidder for an office building in Little Rock, Ark., earlier this year.

 

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