An Anniston landmark faces the threat of a foreclosure sale for the second time in two years.
The Commerce Tower, the 11-story downtown office building, is headed for the auction block Jan. 24 because the owner defaulted on the mortgage, according to a legal notice published Friday.
“It won’t happen,” said Christopher O’Leary, owner of the tower. He says he’s working out a solution with Kirkland Financial, the Tennessee-based business that holds the mortgage.
O’Leary bought the tower, one of Anniston’s two high-rise office buildings, in 2015 for $1.6 million. Built as the Williamson Commerce Center in 1990, the building originally housed a bank and the offices of J.H. Williamson Oil Co., among other tenants. In recent years, owners have struggled to fill its office space.
The size of the building, in a mostly one-and two-story town, was never a deterrent for O’Leary. He’s the manager of the John H. Peterson Trust, a business trust set up by a California businessman who, according to O’Leary, became too ill to manage some of his real estate properties (O’Leary says he and Peterson are “old golfing buddies.”).
O’Leary said that under the terms of the trust, he can sell trust properties but only if he uses the money to buy property of equal or greater value. O’Leary had already retired to Anniston when a need to buy new property came up, so he bought the tower.
Since then, O’Leary helped launch the High Pointe, a penthouse restaurant where diners can look out on downtown. The building also houses the law office of Bruce Downey and Randall-Reilly Publishing, a marketing firm, among other clients. O’Leary said the building is now about 60 percent occupied.
On Friday, tenants in the building went about their business, and didn’t seem concerned.
“We’ve got a five-year lease, so we’ll be here,” said Jerry White, a sales representative for Randall-Reilly. White the building had a different owner when Randall-Reilly opened, and it changed nothing for the company.
O’Leary didn’t offer details on why the property was in foreclosure or how the problem was worked out, but he did say that he was working out a refinancing deal with a company in California.
“It’s difficult to refinance projects in Anniston,” he said. He cited the building’s history as a reason financiers are skeptical.
Attempts to reach lawyers for Kirkland Financial were unsuccessful.
The tower faced a similar foreclosure-sale threat in June 2016, but O’Leary refinanced the loan and averted the auction.