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KISSIMMEE – Sheets of plywood covered windows broken by vandals, and there was no telling what creatures were now living in the murky swimming pool at the Thriftlodge on U.S. Highway 192.
Still, the motel – shuttered since soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – got a winning bid of $1.4 million at a public auction on Thursday.
Bidding on the Thriftlodge, one of countless unremarkable motels on U.S. 192 leading to Disney World, lasted only about four minutes and when it was over, the buyer didn’t want his name disclosed until the sale becomes final in about a month.
But what mattered in the dozen or so neighbors who turned out to watch the auction was that the motel sold for a decent price.

On U.S. Highway 192. Ballardin Enterprises Inc. close
the 84 room motel

It may cost around $100,000 to fix up place

“It shows there’s still some value to 192,” said Janak Desai, a hotelier who is president of Orlando/Kissimmee Hotel & Motel Association, which represents several dozens of the small motels along Osceola county’s main thoroughfare.
Desai and others said after the auction they worried it would sell for less, which would have signaled a lick in faith in the market for the county’s prospects of rebuilding its hospitality industry.
“I think everybody’s happy that it [the sale price] wasn’t rock bottom,” said Alan Frenkel, one of the auctioneers from Karlin Daniel & Associates.
The winning bid was about $1 million less than Ballardin Enterprises paid for the motel 2 1/2 years ago.
Ballardin closed the 84-room around Sept. 25, when it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy court protection from its creditors. Besides taping a note to the front door apologizing to guest for closing so abruptly, the company did little to prepare the motel for closing, leaving it a kind of time capsule.
On Thursday, unopened bars of soap were arranged neatly by the sink in Room 116, open for inspection by potential bidders. September’s HBO guide lay beside the television. Close by was a tip envelope for a housekeeper who hadn’t worked there for months. She had signed her name, Katia, and drawn a smiley face.

But while everything seemed in order in the rooms, neighboring motel owners said the property was a long way from opening.
Shailesh “Sunny” Patel estimated the buyer will spend at least $100,000 fixing up the place.
On top of that, he said, there’s the potential costs of becoming a franchise of a national chain and replacing the sign out front. Besides those expenses, the buyer must pay a 10 percent premium, $60,000 in back taxes and closing costs.
The motel wasn’t the first here to sell at auction since the attacks, and it won’t be the last. One of the county’s largest hotels, the Hyatt Orlando, will be sold at a foreclosure auction next. month.
But Desai, the motel association president, said the sale of the Thriftlodge is one more sign that things here are turning around. One in five of Osceola county’s 125 hotels and motels couldn’t afford to pay property taxes last month, but an early Easter and an improving economy helped full rooms over the holiday, raising hopes for a strong summer.