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Mystery buyers will turn lakeside retreat into 60-bedroom single-family home

Developers, restaurateurs and hoteliers all kicked the proverbial tires on the lakeside mansion in Derby that served for years as a Catholic retreat house.

But the prospective buyers of the property intend to use it as a single-family residence, the way it was originally built in 1924.

Listing agent Bret Llewellyn of Realty USA and a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo confirmed Thursday that the diocese had accepted a purchase offer on the 27,000-square-foot Georgian-style mansion that's been known as the St. Columban Center for more than 60 years.

They declined to identify the buyers.

The diocese began pulling away from offering retreats at the mansion a few years ago and now primarily uses Christ the King Seminary in Aurora.

A sold sign was in place Thursday morning at 6892 Lake Shore Road, which has been on the market since spring 2016. It was listed originally for $1.9 million. The asking price was lowered this past spring to $1.595 million.

"It's not sold yet. There's no closing date yet. We have a contract," said George Richert, diocesan spokesman.

Llewellyn said he expected an October closing.

The unusual property is located 18 miles from downtown Buffalo. It features a whopping 60 bedrooms ā€” 27 in the mansion and 33 in a dorm-style wing ā€” as well as two large kitchens, extensive landscaping and 500 feet of frontage along Lake Erie. The mansion has 13 bathrooms, parquet flooring, a library with cherry paneling, ornate ceilings, window seats and an intricately carved fireplace mantel. Its property tax bill is estimated at $41,986.

The original 17,000-square-foot manse was built in 1924 as a summer home for wealthy business owner Hans Schmidt and his family. The Columban Laymen's League, a group of Catholic World War II veterans, purchased it in 1947. The Columban Fathers, who ran a seminary in Silver Creek, initially staffed the retreat house.

For sale: Lakefront mansion with 60 bedrooms, 13 baths

In 1959, the center added a two-story wing of small bedrooms, allowing overnight accommodations for as many as 70 people.

It's that aspect of the property that made it potentially a difficult sell.

"Most of the people came and said, 'What are we going to do with the school-style dorms,' " said Llewellyn. "The house alone we could have sold 10 times I think."

The buyers haven't decided exactly what they will do with the extra building, which is about 9,000 square feet. But they do plan to live in the main house, he said.

More than 70 potential buyers viewed the property, including most of the area's big developers and several restaurant and hotel operators, said Llewellyn. Viewers had to prove that they could afford to buy the house before being allowed on a walk-through.

Photograph on the wall at St. Columban Center shows equestrians and dogs readying for a hunt.

It was clear that some of the viewers were just intrigued by the property and had no intention of making an offer. One woman, for example, submitted to the pre-qualifying financial check. She then brought along several people from her book club for the house tour, said Llewellyn.

But eight or nine prospective buyers expressed serious interest and returned for a second walk-through. The diocese ended up receiving three offers. The two other offers were from buyers who would have pursued a commercial use for the property, likely a hotel, he said.

Town of Evans officials were receptive to commercial reuses of the property, but they likely would have resisted attempts to tear down the mansion to make way for a new development, said Llewellyn.

The diocese first announced in 2010 it was shutting down the center, citing declining interest in overnight retreats and the escalating costs of running it. The center has remained open in recent years for conferences and retreats, albeit on a dwindling and more sporadic basis.

Richert said selling the property was "part of good stewardship" of diocesan assets.

"It's clearly a very valuable piece of property," he said.

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