After a minute and a half, the fifth and winning bid of $325,000 sold the former Holly Ridge Smokehouse Restaurant at the steps of Onslow County Superior Court.

After a minute and a half, the fifth and winning bid of $325,000 sold the former Holly Ridge Smokehouse Restaurant at the steps of Onslow County Superior Court.

A group of about 14 potential buyers formed a half-circle around attorney Kevin McConnell, who was appointed as commissioner of the sale, at noon June 25. McConnell read the terms of sale before opening bids for the 4.38-acre tract and 8,750 square-foot building at 511 U.S. 17 on the north end of Holly Ridge. The restaurant closed July 2, 2012, heir Michael Levine of Chicago told The Daily News on Wednesday afternoon. 

“$325,000. $325,000, going once. $325,000, going twice,” McConnell told the group. “Sold to Mr. Pierce for $325,000.”

John Pierce of Jacksonville — representing Tract Investments LLC, for which he is manager — made the winning bid. 

McConnell opened bids at $250,000, but the proceeding required no minimum.

“We don’t want the bidding to be too low,” McConnell said. “I could have started at $50,000  and gone to $75,000 or $80,000.”

The property’s 2012 tax value was $554,070 and McConnell said a fair start was about half of that amount.

Pierce made the first offer: $200,000. After the auction, he declined to comment on the winning bid or whether any plans exist for the building and U.S. 17 frontage.

Information about Pierce’s limited-liability company, Tract Investors, revealed few details about the nature of the business. 

According to its latest filing at the N.C. Secretary of State’s Corporations Division, Tract Investments conducts “Real Estate Investments” with a principal address of 405 Johnson Blvd. in Jacksonville. Betty Bullock also serves as company manager.

The winning bid required that Pierce immediately owed McConnell a certified check for $16,250, which is 5 percent of the total sale. 

Prospective buyers have 10 business days to “upset” the bid with one that is at least 5-percent more than $325,000, McConnell said. That deadline is July 7, he added. 

Then the family of heirs has 15 days to object the final offer and ask for an appraisal of the property. Although an appraisal was done on land adjacent to the former restaurant, it was not part of the auction, McConnell said. 

The property was owned by multiple heirs. One of those heirs filed a petition for partition sale in Onslow Superior Court April 30 

In his years practicing law in Onslow County, McConnell said he remebers few partition-proceeding auctions at the courthouse steps. “Usually, the family members will realize they’re going to take a bath at a partition sale and they agree to work it out, but these folks just couldn’t get along,” McConnell said.

However, other forced sales — such as foreclosures and transactions spurred by tax delinquencies — have been common, he added.

Forced sales of all types have been held on U.S. courthouse steps throughout the nation’s history, McConnell said. 

“It’s older than anybody alive today,” McConnell said of that body of law. “If there’s a forced sale, it happens on the courthouse steps.”

Civil law governs the sale of “property situated wholly within a single county,” according to N.C. General Statutes. In this case, the judicial sale, which is a court-ordered deal, stemmed from a lawsuit from one of four heirs against two sibling heirs, according to court documents. 

Such a sale can be held any day except Sunday, according to General Statutes.

After Pierce’s opening bid of $200,000, offers of $225,000, $250,000, $300,000 and $325,000 followed. 

As the amount rose, the silence grew between each bid.

“Thank you, folks,” McConnell said after the deal peaked and the group descended the courthouse steps after the roughly 5-minute occasion. 

Although Michael Levine said he would have rather had the property transferred by real estate sale, he was fine with the total reached Wednesday. 

“Either way, I end up with very little,” Levine said.