Bidding war erupts over hot downtown Naples property

Naples on Friday April 25, 2014.

NAPLES — A bidding war has erupted over the storied — and sometimes headline-grabbing — Four Corners building on the southwest corner of U.S. 41 and Ninth Street South in downtown Naples.

Once the home of a pop star’s restaurant and a movie star’s art, the mixed-use building is on the market for $6.8 million.

“The response has been overwhelming,” said listing agent Clark Pear of Premiere Plus Realty, who has been quietly marketing the property since December. “I get five to 10 calls on it a day.”

With interested buyers from the Northeast, Midwest, Canada and Europe, he expects the property eventually will sell for about $7 million.

The three-story, cupola-topped building at 898 Fifth Ave. South has had a colorful past.

On a 0.2-acre site that originally housed a gas station, the 16,714-square-foot structure was built in 1997. The first two floors were devoted to commercial uses, the top to apartments.

In the Metcalfe Klopfer Gallery on the second floor, an art dealer who lived in the building used to display the art of movie star Anthony Quinn, said the actor’s longtime friend, Sandra Figge.

Quinn visited occasionally. In 1997, the 82-year-old star of “Zorba the Greek” was married to his third wife, Kathy Benvin, 35, at Figge’s Bay Colony home by former Naples Mayor Bill Barnett.

Meanwhile, a number of restaurants cycled through the building over the years, including Hofgarten Brauhaus, Royal Courtyard, Armadillo’s, and Viva on 5th.

Some drew controversy.

In 2004, Zen Sushi Bar & Asian Grill opened its doors, owned by Naples resident Robert Daly in partnership with former ‘NSync boy-band singer JC Chasez. Ownership battles and financial woes forced the eatery into bankruptcy, and the restaurant re-emerged with a new name — Zen — and new ownership a year later.

But Zen’s owners contended the building suffered from leaks and mold, and refused to pay rent to then-building owners 898 Fifth Avenue South Corp. Zen closed its doors in 2007 and was replaced by another Oriental-themed restaurant, Sushi-Thai.

In 2008, Sushi-Thai made headlines when police found the restaurant was violating its live entertainment permit by running a nightclub with scantily clad women who performed lap dances for tips. The restaurant agreed to close the club, and continues to operate an eatery at the site.

Meanwhile, 898 Fifth Avenue South Corp. lost the property to foreclosure in 2009 and Marolax Naples acquired it.

Pear said the two Marolax owners, who are German, are selling because they are retiring.

He added that the building recently was renovated and upgraded and is “in excellent shape.”

Besides Sushi-Thai, the Four Corners building houses four apartments on the third floor. Naples Laser and MedSpa, which includes a hair salon, opened on the second floor in December.

While the current leases will remain in place, Pear said the building also eventually could be used for a boutique hotel, condos, retail or offices.

While the commercial market has been slower to recover from the recession than residential, Fifth Avenue has been booming of late. Last year, more than two dozen new businesses popped up on the street, and rents are on the upswing.

Within the past year, one high-end sale happened, too: the former St. George and the Dragon restaurant building at 936 Fifth Ave. South, which sold for $5.2 million in January.

Naples commercial broker Wes Kunkle says Fifth Avenue is “the place to be when buying or leasing property.”

“There’s a waiting list,” he said. “It’s a sign of good times coming.”

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