No winners in Phoenix Bank deal

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 22, 2002

Pazel Jackson is likely in line for a financial windfall.

Jackson is the New Yorker who owns the Phoenix Bank Building on East Washington Street. The building has been mentioned at several Suffolk City Council members as a possible site for a museum.

Apparently, that’s as far as plans had gone – talk. Nobody from the City of Suffolk had ever talked to him about buying it.

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Enter Andy Damiani. Our former mayor called Jackson last month, made an offer on the property and Jackson accepted it. Damiani sent him a deposit to seal the deal. About a week later Jackson returned the check. The deal was off.

Jackson told the News-Herald last week that he had no clue people might be interested in buying the historic building he inherited from his mother’s family and converted into a pigeon roost. Nor did he have any inkling about plans to revitalize the Fairgrounds area in which the building is situated.

When made aware of all this by city officials, Jackson promptly stiffed Damiani, returned his $1,000 deposit, and decided to weigh his options.

Not surprisingly, this ticked Damiani off. He promptly called a press conference and blasted city officials for meddling in his business affairs.

I question how interested city officials were in acquiring the property. They had never spoken to Jackson about their interest in it, though they claim to have left messages with members of his family since May of 2001. While I have no reason to doubt they left messages, had they been serious about pursuing the property, it would not have taken more than about 15 minutes for someone at City Hall to track down Jackson’s New York phone number and make him an offer. Anybody over there ever heard of 4-1-1? Damiani found it easily enough.

How about walking downstairs to the treasurer’s office? Are we not billing this guy for property taxes? They sure as heck found me in a hurry when I bought a house last year.

Nobody is really innocent in this deal, however. Real estate investment is Damiani’s livelihood. I suspect it’s not too unlikely that somewhere in the back of his mind it might have occurred to him that if he were able to obtain ownership of the Phoenix Bank building, there was a possibility he could turn around and sell it to the city, perhaps turning a modest profit.

Big deal. Now Jackson is going to do the same thing –

if he sells it at all – and his asking price could well be higher than Damiani’s. Someone’s going to profit on this deal. Had it been Damiani, at least the money would have stayed in Suffolk, and the city could have bullied him into selling it.

As it stands now, the only winner is an absentee landlord who’s invested little, if anything in his property. I can’t say for certain but had he obtained ownership I suspect Damiani at least would have tried to oust the pigeons. As for me, I’d rather see the city spend hundreds of thousands of dollars condemning the building, demolishing it and constructing a replica of the Phoenix Bank to use as a museum than see Jackson get one penny more than $15,000 of Suffolk taxpayer money. He doesn’t deserve it.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald.