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Branson pioneer auctions holdings

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by Paul Flemming

SBJ Staff

More than 60 acres of Branson property including an amphitheater, restaurant and two motels will go on the auction block Jan. 29, accounting for all the remaining holdings of Dale Crawford, an early developer in the country music Mecca.

"I guess you could call me one of the pioneers," Crawford said.

Health problems caused Crawford to stop operating the Ozark Mountain Amphitheater in 1992. Continuing poor health is the reason for the sale Crawford said. He said the property and all its improvements are debt-free. The property will be sold without a minimum bid.

"Mr. Crawford said, hey, I'm gonna cut her loose and take whatever she brings," said William Bone, president of National Auction Group Inc., the Alabama-based company conducting the sale. "There's a little anxiety right now. All the interest we've had has been out of Springfield or Branson" and no national inquiries. "We're hoping not to sell it at a speculator's price," Bone said.

"It's going to be a reality check for a lot of people sitting on their '93 prices," said Smith W. Brookhart III, president and CEO of Ozark Mountain Bank.

Bob Huels, a broker with AmerUs Commercial Group in Branson, said the nature of the sale limits its usefulness to determine the state of the real estate market.

"An auction has a limited amount of buyers and limited amount of time that would not be indicative of an open-market transfer," Huels said. "There's nothing wrong with an auction, but it will only set the market value for that property on that day for that limited number of buyers."

Crawford has owned the land that fronts Shepherd of the Hills Expressway since 1977, he said. The Thunderbird Inn, on the Highway 76 Strip, opened in 1978.

"He's probably a good, classic story of entrepreneurship," Brookhart said.

The Thunderbird has 125 rooms and sits on 2.2 acres. The 60-acre parcel includes the more than 8,000-seat Ozark Mountain Amphitheater, Ozark Mountain Buffet restaurant, the 77-room Westwood Inn and a private residence.

The motels are in operation and Crawford said he has always leased the restaurant.

Crawford opened the amphitheater in May 1986, and he brought national acts to the venue such as Reba McIntire, Alabama, the Beach Boys, Merle Haggard and Wayne Newton.

Bone said his company has marketed the property nationally in such places as Las Vegas and Nashville, along with placing ads in the Wall Street Journal. Crawford said the property was listed for sale for the past year, but brought no takers. He said he wanted to sell the property and researched auction companies, settling on National Auction Group.

"We hope to sell it to somebody who's an end user," Bone said. Marketing material for the property mentions that it would be ideal for a convention center.

"Whoever buys it will buy it as a good piece of ground," Brookhart said.

He said a purchaser might buy it not as an amphitheater, but to develop another use. The property includes about 40 acres of undeveloped land that abuts the Factory Merchant's Outlet Mall at the rear of the parcel. The land is within Branson's city limits, and further road improvements around it are planned, Crawford said.

"It would be a sin to take (the amphitheater) down, but it's quite possible that might happen," Huels said.

Recent foreclosure auctions and auctions conducted under the direction of bankruptcy court have not brought hoped-for prices. An auction conducted in December 1996 failed to bring the minimum bid for Branson's Gettysburg Theatre.

"The difference in this one is it's going to go for whatever it'll bring," Bone said. "There will be no bank bidding up the price" as in the case of foreclosure sales.

Bone would say only it is a "multimillion dollar piece of property." Huels said he had heard unofficially that the amphitheater, restaurant and property, excluding the Westwood Inn and the residence, had an asking price of $5 million.

Crawford will finance up to 49 percent of the purchase price, with 10 percent interest, 20-year amortization and a 90-day balloon period. Certified funds of $100,000 presented before the auction are the only requirement for participation. Registration for the auction will begin at 10 a.m. Jan. 29, and the auction itself will be at 1 p.m.

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