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Fort Drum Vehicle Storage could return to Watertown warehouse

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Fort Drum Vehicle Storage may end up going back and doing business in the same West Main Street warehouse it has operated in for the past seven years.

The company’s Chief Financial Officer, Charlene Williams, outbid a Watertown businessman with a $125,000 offer for 753 Rear W. Main St. during a public auction in City Hall Wednesday night. While she had the highest bid, it does not guarantee the property transaction because the Watertown City Council must still give the OK at Monday’s night council meeting.

During the auction, the city also sold six houses, three vacant lots and a pair of tax sale certificates for two commercial properties for a total of $294,200. The city had budgeted $20,000 in revenues for those types of properties this year.

City Comptroller James E. Mills said he “was pleased” with the auction since the city unloaded all of the properties except six vacant lots.

A few minutes earlier, Ms. Williams assured the comptroller she was “personally buying” the vacant building; she paid a 10 percent deposit with a series of cashier checks from Key Bank. As long as the council approves the bid, she will have to pay the remaining amount before Nov. 16.

Afterward, Ms. Williams said her bosses, JoAnn Sanchez-Norquist and John S. Norquist, have not decided to move the vehicle storage business back in the building because all of the negative publicity they’ve received from losing the property for unpaid taxes. Ms. Sanchez-Norquist was so upset she did not want to attend the public auction, Ms. Williams said.

“She’s had enough,” she said, adding that her friend may, instead, take the business to another community. “She made a mistake, but she’s not a bad person. She’s my boss and my friend. If she wants to rent it, it’s hers.”

In 2005, Fort Drum Vehicle Storage was formed to serve deploying soldiers in need of a safe place to store their vehicles. It had stored about 90 vehicles in the now-vacant West Main Street building.

No matter what happens with the company, Ms. Williams said she made a good investment, stressing she will get someone to rent the 26,000-square-foot structure that’s in good shape.

Before she got it, a series of bids went back and forth with Donald M. Hunt, a professional diver and certified scuba instructor who planned to use the warehouse to store his inventory for his diving business. He stopped at $120,000.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said afterward.

Despite her boss’s financial difficulty, Ms. Williams said she still believes in the company and still believes in her friend. The company has 1,000 reservations in January to store vehicles, with each paying $175 a month, totaling $175,000, she said.

“It’s a great concept,” she said. Her friend started the company in her laundry room while she was expecting a baby.

Back in July, Ms. Sanchez-Norquist lost the warehouse to the city for failing to pay $17,776.37 in back taxes. She also owes $92,443 in back taxes on four small motels and a storage facility in Jefferson County.

Local contractor and landscaper James T. Cavellier Jr. got the other notorious property during the auction. He successfully bid on a house at 259 Seymour St. that made headlines this summer following a dispute between the city and a family that wanted to recover the furnishings inside after they had sat virtually untouched for 22 years.

After Albert V. Stress died of cancer at age 86 on March 11, 1990, his furnishings and other belongings remained inside the house for that long because of a disagreement between his two daughters.

Mr. Cavellier, who owns a handful of other houses in the city, did not know anything about the house’s history. He just liked that it has the original woodwork, hardwood floors and doors. He plans to restore it and then put it on the market.

“I’m a big restorer,” he said.

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