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It's hard to imagine Ellicottville without the Ellicottville Inn, where you can still reserve a comfortable room, hold a business meeting, have a sumptuous meal or meet friends for drinks.

But anxiety about the future of the resort village's anchor business is rising because the venerable inn is headed to the auction block Friday in a bank foreclosure.

Gary Rougeau of First Tier Bank & Trust said Wednesday the foreclosure was filed in May 1998 because the corporate owner was in default. Currently, $688,000 is owed in overdue mortgage payments.

Mayor Charles Coolidge said the inn's problems don't reflect economic conditions of the village, but he wants to avoid the loss of 20 jobs and visitor accommodations.

"Quite a few locals go in there and eat on Friday," he said. "My wife and myself ate there a few times. The food is great. I've been to meetings and had sandwiches there."

The bank will make the opening bid on Friday, but Rougeau refused to say how much will be offered.

Ellicottville Inn Inc., headed by Barry Kent of Hinsdale and Mary Magnano of Olean, won't be one of the bidders at the auction, scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday in the lobby of the Cattaraugus County Center in Little Valley.

Kent said Wednesday night that he, Mrs. Magnano and a silent partner assumed the mortgage at a high interest rate and purchased the corporation's stock from Canadian owners three years ago. But problems arose after he spent $200,000 of his own money and the silent partner was unable to help out financially.

"I've only been in the place two times in three years," said Kent, adding that he knows little about the business operation and has no intention of trying to buy the inn back, "unless it goes cheap."

The auction of the historic property is generating a lot of attention. Rougeau said Wednesday he received at least a dozen phone calls from interested buyers since last Friday, when a local weekly newspaper announcing the auction hit the streets.

At the auction, the high bidder will have to hand over a deposit of 10 percent of the bank mortgage and must pay the remainder within 30 days.

But that's not all. The sale is contingent on payment to the Cattaraugus County treasurer of three years' worth of back taxes, penalties, interest and other levies totaling $81,521, not including real property and school taxes for the 1999-2000 fiscal year.

The county plans to file its own foreclosure proceedings Oct. 1, but the prospective owner can pay the back taxes and some additional interest to redeem the property within three months of that date, county Treasurer Joseph Keller said.

And then there's the matter of a lien for an unknown sum on the property held by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. So prospective inn owners should count on paying off the lien in addition to the $769,521 owed for the mortgage and tax bills.

According to the county treasurer's office, the property, including a 90- by 200-foot lot, is assessed at $477,400. Annual taxes are $8,385.65. Records state the 12,626-square-foot building was built in 1928 and has 24 rooms.

Town Historian Lois Siggelkow said the inn is a local landmark as part of the village's registered historic district.

"I think (its closing) would be a great loss to the village," Mrs. Siggelkow said.

She said a hotel has always been on the site since 1822, when Alson Leavenworth, a physician, judge and justice of the peace, built a 2 1/2 -story wooden building. It was the village's first hotel, established before a courthouse could be built for the community, which was then the official county seat.

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