Time is Running Out for Autoport to Avoid Foreclosure, Owner Still Has Hope
Autoport co-owner Greg Mussi knows that things have been tough.
He's seen the headlines. He's read the comments online. He knows that not everyone believes his business will be able to avoid foreclosure this week -- but he does.
"We have a tough decision to make," Mussi says. "But either way, we will be celebrating the Autoport's 80th birthday next June."
Mussi, along with his wife and Autoport co-owner Lynda Mussi, has been working feverishly over the past several weeks to stop Enterprise Bank from foreclosing on the property and selling it off the highest bidder -- literally. If Mussi can't pay off about $1.4 million in mortgage payments and late fees in the next couple days, the the property will be sold at a public auction on Thursday, April 9.
Two different developers have expressed interest in purchasing the property before Thursday, with plans to tear down the vintage buildings for new commercial construction. But Mussi isn't exactly thrilled by the thought of seeing Pennsylvania's first and oldest motel razed to the ground.
"Some of us still see the value of this place," Mussi says fondly.
So Mussi says he has several options: cutting his losses, selling the Autoport and letting something else takes its place is one. Declaring bankruptcy before Thursday to delay the foreclosure and stop the auction, and then restructuring the Autoport's mortgage with a different bank is another possibility.
Mussi has also been in talks for a few months with a potential investor with experience running hotels in the State College area, who has expressed interest in buying part of the business. If they partner up, the investor would take over the hotel side of things (possibly under a corporate flag) while the Mussis would focus their efforts on the adjacent Clem's Roadside Bar and Grill, which is a separate business from the Autoport.
Another local businessman has also expressed interest in buying in to help revamp the Autoport and keep the local landmark afloat. Mussi declined to give the names of any potential investors before any deals are finalized.
Yet another possibility for Mussi is to sell part of the five acres the Autoport sits on, and then use the proceeds to pay off the bank and invest in the remaining buildings. If Mussi went down that path, he says he would be able to reduce his expenses and hold on to the main Autoport building and the cottages directly behind it -- leaving 28 rooms in tact.
Mussi says he's asked the bank for a 30 day extension on the foreclosure proceedings to give him more time to nail down the details of his next move. But even if the bank says no, Mussi is "basically a signature away" from declaring bankruptcy and moving on to plan B. He admits he doesn't want to go through that painful process, but if that's what Mussi has to do to save the Autoport, then that's what he'll do.
The Autoport's financial struggles have been in the public eye ever since the motel appeared on the reality television show "Hotel Impossible" last October. The show's host helped Mussi convince Enterprise Bank to give them a few extra months to turn things around, but that deadline got pushed up again a few weeks after the show aired.
According to court documents filed by Enterprise Bank, the Mussis defaulted on a loan in September 2014 and were unable to keep up with mortgage payments. The lawsuit claims that they were late on all payments from May 2014 onwards.
Attorneys for Enterprise Bank write that the Mussis owe the total principal amount of their mortgage and over $15,000 in late fees. Enterprise Bank attorneys also write that the bank was not required to inform the Mussis of their intention to foreclose in writing because the Autoport is not a residential property.
Clem's Roadside Bar and Grill is also currently being sued by Clem's Cafe in Blairsville for alleged trademark infringement, creating even more troubles for the Mussis. However, the judge presiding over the suit recently sustained the Mussi's objections to the lawsuit (which was filed by the ex-wife of the restaurant's namesake, Clem Pantalone).
But even against all these odds, Mussi has hope.
"Without a doubt, the Autoport is still going to be here come April 10," he says.
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