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By Brian Boyd - www.SouthCoastToday.com
bboyd@s-t.com
December 05, 2011 12:00 AM

DARTMOUTH — The fate of the Hawthorne Country Club hangs in the balance today.

The 55-acre club was scheduled to be auctioned this morning. While the club has closed for the season and its future remains uncertain, staff members are hoping someone will buy the business and keep it running as a banquet hall and golf course.

"At this point, we are anxious to find out," said Pam Williams, the club's controller, looking ahead to today's auction. "We will just wait and see what happens."

Williams said she did not know who might buy the property.

"There are tons of rumors," she said. "We are waiting to find out which rumor, if any, is correct."

The holder of the mortgage, TD Bank, will take possession of the property and attempt to sell it to the highest bidder at a public auction, scheduled for 10 a.m. at the clubhouse, according to auctioneer Daniel P. McLaughlin of McLaughlin & Co.

Hawthorne has historically thrived, and the banquet hall business in general enjoys high profit margins. The auction presents a unique opportunity, McLaughlin said.

"There will be an opportunity for someone to get into this property at today's value and today's interest rate," he said. "I think someone is going to make some money here."

The bank has the option of holding onto it if it doesn't get a price it likes. The best chance for buyers to get a good price is at the auction, McLaughlin said.

Anyone who provides a deposit of $20,000 by cashier's or certified check can make a bid on the property, he said. The auction is open to anyone who wants to observe.

New Bedford fishing boat owner Carlos Rafael said he plans to attend the auction and consider making a bid.

"It's a possibility," he said. "I'm not going there to just watch. I have a lot more things to do with my life."

Rafael said the country club could be a success with some renovations and the proper promotion. He said his three daughters have worked at the club.

The club, which opened in the late 1960s, has a nine-hole golf course overlooking the Paskamansett Valley, along with banquet space, including a main room that holds up to 350 people. It had employed up to 55 people during its busy season, mostly part-time.

The future of the club has been uncertain since owner William Schuler died in March. In October, the club began warning customers who had booked events for next year or beyond to look for alternative venues.

Schuler, who lived in Marion, bought the business in 1969 and sold it in the mid-1970s. He bought it back in 1984.

The property is classified as recreational land under state law, Chapter 61B, which provides preferential tax treatment in return for preservation.

Someone trying to develop that land would have to get the classification lifted, pay back past tax savings and win approval for other uses, and there are no guarantees of success, according to Judith A. Lima, a real estate broker and owner of Platinum Group Realty who had been trying to find a buyer prior to the auction date.

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