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Businessman acquires Solar Building at auction


Businessman Brian H. Murray hopes to continue his success with downtown buildings after acquiring the financially troubled Solar Building through a public auction last week.

Mr. Murray purchased the 106-year-old structure at 200-212 Franklin St. for $1,200,001 at the auction. Fannie Mae, the Dallas mortgage holder, also bid on the property, which had been in foreclosure proceedings since 2011.

Mr. Murray plans to renovate the building over time, unit by unit, said Alison M. Williams, CEO of Mr. Murray’s Washington Street Properties LLC. She expects the closing to occur in October.

Ms. Williams said the six-story, 73-unit apartment building with two commercial tenants is “an important downtown building.”

Property owner Solar and Frontier Buildings, San Francisco, has been criticized for neglecting the property since purchasing it in 2007 and still owes $1.8 million on a loan to Fannie Mae.

On Thursday, some tenants expressed concerns about a lack of maintenance, a problem with cockroaches and security lapses, noting that a couple of robberies have occurred at the Solar Building in recent years.

Mr. Murray has a lot of ideas for reviving the triangle-shaped Renaissance Revival-style building that resembles the larger and taller Flatiron Building in New York City.

“We believe it has lots of potential,” Ms. Williams said.

“It has a bad reputation, and we plan to drastically change that,” she said.

She said the building “has a good cash flow.”

Mr. Murray intends that the current tenants, a few of whom have resided in the building for about 30 years, will remain living there.

In recent years, Mr. Murray, who also owns the nearby Agricultural Insurance building on Washington Street, has had a connection with the Solar property; he has been leasing a tenant parking lot across the street to the former owners, Ms. Williams said.

In 2011, Supreme Court Judge Hugh A. Gilbert appointed a receivership to GM Property Management, Syracuse, to oversee the property while it went through foreclosure.

The building is assessed at $1,116,000 million, according to the city’s assessor office.

For the past 49 years, Judith P. Hadley has leased ground-floor space for her Mixed Company hair salon, tanning booth and tattoo shop and Candy Expressions candy shop.

Earlier this week, Ms. Hadley talked with Ms. Williams to find out what to expect.

“I just hope I can stay,” said Ms. Hadley, who is worried her rent will increase.

Tenant Shari “Kaly” Tatum, who has lived in the building with her two young daughters for about two years, said news of a new owner is welcome.

“We’re hoping things change,” she said.

City Assessor Brian S. Phelps said he is glad to see Mr. Murray investing again in downtown.

“He always seems to do well, and I’m sure he will be able to do well with this building,” Mr. Phelps said.

Built in 1907 by contractor John A. Solar, the Solar Building was once the largest structure in the city.

The building was owned by Phelps Construction Co. from 1960 to 2007.

In recent years, Brian H. Murray has purchased a number of buildings in and around Watertown, including the lower level of the building that houses Stream International on Arsenal Street, the Lincoln Building on Public Square, the former Hospice Foundation of Jefferson County Inc. building at 425 Washington St., the Top of the Square Plaza, and the Palmer Street and College Heights apartments.

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