By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Pig Iron Press building will not be sold after all.
The building at 26 N. Phelps St., downtown, was sold at sheriff’s sale March 5 for $90,000 to high-bidder Mike Naffah of Naffah Development Co. of Canfield.
It was placed on the block for nonpayment of real- estate taxes as part of the foreclosure process by lien-holder American Tax Funding of Jupiter, Fla.
But the previous owner, Jim Villani, founder and owner of Pig Iron Press, said Tuesday that he will pay off the $1,328 balance of the lien this week. Under state law, a sheriff’s sale can be nullified if the owner pays off the lien before the sale is confirmed, an action known as the right to redeem.
Villani said he thought about it over the weekend and decided to keep the building.
Pig Iron Press is an independent publishing company that Villani started 40 years ago. He moved it into the Phelps Street building 20 years ago, and the location has since become a gathering spot for writers and poets.
When the threat of foreclosure became real, he had fundraisers and was able to raise enough money to keep the building. That’s the main reason why he decided to nullify the sale.
“I owe it to my supporters,” said Villani. “A lot of people gave me money because they wanted me to stay. The fundraising drive drew an excellent response and I was able to pay off the lien. Plus the idea of staying in Youngstown has resonance. Pig Iron Press has a national name brand, and its home is here and people want me to stay.”
A second reason, said Villani, is to make a statement against the collection process. “Instead of offering a payment schedule that is commensurate with a person’s ability to pay, collection agencies destroy people,” he said.
American Tax Funding is a national company that purchases and then services delinquent municipal real- estate tax liens.
Atty. John Zomoida of Poland, who represents ATF in its case against Villani, countered that claim.
“We have worked with Mr. Villani for 21/2 years to try to save his property,” said Zomoida.
“The case was first filed in May of 2010. We’ve given him multiple opportunities, including at least two payment agreements. He rejected them both. That’s why this dragged on two or three years. My client isn’t interested in taking his building. It’s not in the real-estate business, it’s in the real-estate tax business. We entered a third payment agreement that called for him to pay $9,000 by March 31, 2012, which was not met. That’s when we proceeded with the sheriff’s sale request,” said Zomoida.
While ATF soon will no longer have any lien against the Pig Iron Press building, it does currently have a lien against Villani’s home in Boardman, which is scheduled for sheriff’s sale Tuesday.
When reached to comment, developer Naffah said he is glad for Villani but still hopes to enter the burgeoning downtown market.
“It would have been a nice thing, but I’m kind of happy for [Villani],” he said. “I hate to see someone lose their building, and that’s not the way we like to purchase properties. I just wish I would have known before [the sheriff’s sale]. It wasted a lot of people’s time. But there are a lot of other opportunities [downtown] and I’m sure we’ll find something soon.”
Before the sheriff’s sale, Villani had his three-story building listed for sale for $95,000 through Howard Hanna Real Estate.
He said he will take a hiatus from his effort to sell the building.
Villani has also just worked out a lease with L.E.E.P. Software, a startup software company owned by Nelsen Dumas, which will use about 1,000 square feet on the second floor of the building.
Villani will continue to have fundraisers to raise money for the renovation of his 1910 building, including painting, window replacement, and improvements to the lighting. The next will be a “We’re Not Moving Sale” on April 6. Admission will be $5, and collectibles will be sold.