WATERFORD – To the attending crowd of Waterford Speedbowl supporters Saturday afternoon, Glastonbury businessman Bruce Bemer was a mystery man when bidding began during a foreclosure auction of the facility.
When the bidding was over Bemer was being called a savior by those track supporters.
The 60-year old Bemer, owner of Bemer Petroleum in Glastonbury, was the top bidder – at $1.75-million – during the foreclosure auction of the 64-year old racing facility Saturday.
With bidding closed, attorney Garon Camassar – overseeing the auction – said “Congratulations Mr. Bemer”. Seconds later Jerry Collett of Waterford, Bemer’s lead consultant in the effort to acquire the track, announced to the crowd that the Speedbowl would remain a racetrack. The announcement garnered huge applause from those on hand.
In the months leading up to the auction many individuals were rumored to have been ready to step up and make their bids in an effort to keep it as a racetrack. Though on Saturday only four bidders registered for the auction, with two of those being Rocco Arbitell and Peter Borelli, the plaintiffs in the foreclosure action.
Bemer’s bid for the track must be accepted by a judge overseeing the foreclosure action before becoming official, though parties on hand said they expected that to happen.
Bemer and Montville businessman Bob Mrowka were the only two bidders not directly involved with case who showed up and registered for the auction. Mrowka did not make a bid.
Bemer said his intentions are to keep the racetrack operating as it has been. He said he has never been involved in racing outside of being a spectator at events. Bemer said his interest in the property was piqued after seeing media reports of the pending foreclosure in the spring.
“I’m very excited,” Bemer said. “I didn’t expect it. I didn’t think I’d be standing here before you today.”
Asked if current management of the track will remain involved Bemer said: “I hope so.”
Asked specifically if track owner Terry Eames would be involved Bemer said: “I’ve talked to Terry a few times. Possibly. It’s a very good possibility.”
Said longtime track competitor Rob Janovic Jr. of Waterford: “I’m thrilled. As long as they know what they’re getting into and they’ve got a vision and a plan. Whoever comes into, that’s what they need. … When the very first thing was that they announced it would be a racetrack, that means the first obstacle has been cleared.”
Said Bemer: “I think there could be some upgrades to the facility. I don’t think I could list them all out there right now.”
Collett, of Waterford, a longtime crew member and attendee of racing at Waterford, said he has been working as Bemer’s lead consultant regarding acquiring the property.
“I’ve been coming here since I was five years old,” Collett said. “I grew up right down the road. I used to sneak in the back, fall in the swamp, drink a bottle of brandy. … In life when you can get accomplished what you started out in the morning to do – no matter how big or how small – if you’re hungry and you get a hot dog your stomach is full. We came here to get the Speedbowl and keep it the Speedbowl and we accomplished that. … We did what we wanted. We knew all the support they have for racing here and it’s going to fly.”
Twice before Eames had staved off foreclosure auctions at the track. Saturday’s foreclosure auction was scheduled in January. In July 2007, Arbitell, a Southbury businessman and local racing supporter, along with his business associate Borrelli, stepped in to offer Eames and his ownership group, 1080 Hartford Road LLC, financing to avoid a foreclosure action being taken then by former mortgage holder Washington Mutual Bank. The deal with Arbitell was announced a day before the track’s auction date for a foreclosure in 2007.
In May 2008 Arbitell brought his own foreclosure action against the ownership group after former track operator Jerry Robinson failed to pay the Speedbowl’s property taxes.
Facing another pending foreclosure auction, Eames and 1080 Hartford Road LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October 2009. A debt reorganization plan was accepted by bankruptcy court in January 2012 and the ownership cleared bankruptcy not long after that.
In March 2013, Arbitell and the rest of the creditors involved in the bankruptcy moved to have foreclosure action retaken against the Speedbowl ownership, which led to Saturday’s auction.
The bidding process was started by Garon Camassar just after noon on Saturday with Arbitell and Borelli bidding $1.195 to open the process.
Bemer followed with a bid of $1.5 million. Arbitell/Borelli countered at $1.55 million. Bemer came back at $1.6 million. Arbitell/Borelli countered with a bid of $1.7 million. Bemer returned with a bid of $1.75 million. Moments later William McCoy, the attorney for Arbitell and Borelli said they were done bidding.
Eames owes about $1 million to Arbitell and about another $1 million to the other creditors involved. The track had been recently valued at just over $3 million.
“We just wanted our money,” Arbitell said. “I tried to bid it up to get everybody’s money back but we couldn’t go any further. It was higher than we wanted to go.”