Barton Oldsmobile has outbid two rivals to win the right to acquire the assets of Utter Motor Co. and Utter Infiniti, downtown car dealerships that filed for bankruptcy in April.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge John Klobucher verbally approved the $1.25 million sale during a four-hour hearing Tuesday. Pending corporate franchise approval by Cadillac and Infiniti, the deal should become final in about two weeks, Utter attorney Bruce Medeiros said Wednesday.
“We are definitely pleased with the sale, and we believe Barton is a strong dealership and will not have any problem acquiring approval from Cadillac,” Medeiros said.
Once finalized, the Barton dealerships - which already have franchise rights to sell Oldsmobile, Saturn and Jeep/Eagle new cars - will also sell Cadillac and Infiniti luxury cars.
“We’re very excited about it,” said Jeff Barton, president and co-owner of the Barton dealerships.
“We’re reviewing proposals with Cadillac and we’ll start finalizing proposals immediately. Cadillac owners can be assured of a continuing of sales and service for their vehicles,” Barton said after the hearing.
Utter Motor Co. and Utter Infiniti continue to sell and service vehicles at 1219 W. Second under Chapter 11 bankruptcies filed April 14. The dealership also will continue sales and service during the ownership transition.
Barton, Camp Automotive Inc. and Alfonso Cadillac of Portland submitted offers to buy the troubled dealerships after they declared bankruptcy. Alfonso abruptly pulled out of an open bidding war during the hearing.
“Alfonso backed out because the operating costs for a dealership to move here from Portland would have been too great,” said Albert Kennedy, an attorney representing Alfonso Management. “The other dealerships had a competitive advantage because they live here.”
Attorneys for Barton and Camp began the bidding at $1,223,000 and $1,155,000 respectively, but each increased their offers - once in an increment of only $2,000 - as attorneys wrote new bids on an easel. At times onlookers became bored with the slow process and began humming the theme to “Jeopardy.”
After almost a half-hour of consulting and bidding, Barton’s $1,248,000 bid beat out Camp’s final $1,225,000 offer.
Technicalities regarding property ownership complicated the hearing, which more than a dozen attorneys attended.
The Cadillac and Infiniti showrooms and cars are the property of the bankruptcy estate. But the land on which the showrooms stand is the property of an Utter family trust, which did not file for bankruptcy.
To avoid future conflicts over use of the properties, Barton’s offer stipulated that it could eventually buy the two lots for an additional $1,090,000.
The Utter dealership, which has been a downtown fixture for more than 50 years, filed for bankruptcy April 14. Within days, car buyers began complaining to the state that they never received the titles, tags or permanent license plates for used cars they purchased at Utter Infiniti and Utter Motor Co.
According to consumers who have since accessed titles and plates, the incidents occurred while the dealerships were under the management of Allan Holms. Holms, a former car dealer in Montana, no longer works for Utter.
When Utter Motor Co. opened in 1941, the dealership was the first Pontiac and Cadillac franchise in the Inland Northwest.
Fred Utter Sr. named his son, Fred Utter Jr., president of the company in 1966. In 1970, they sold the Pontiac division. Rick Utter became president of Utter Motor Co. in 1989 when he took the position over from his father, Fred Utter Jr. The company added the Infiniti franchise in 1991.
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