Greg and Lynda Mussi filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy code Wednesday morning, a move that would put a stop to a sheriff’s sale of the Autoport.
Greg Mussi said it was the only move they could make to avoid losing the state’s oldest motel about 24 hours before it was set to be auctioned.
“Our hope was that we would avoid bankruptcy, and we had the opportunity to make a case to the bank, then rather than doing this they could give us more time to finalize a deal with an investor,” Mussi said. “They didn’t answer us. We requested that late last week, and they didn’t respond, and I get it. I totally understand their position on that, but it meant we had to stop the sheriff’s sale with Chapter 11 bankruptcy.”
The Mussis have tried to avoid foreclosure with Enterprise Bank since last year.
Joseph Fidler, Enterprise Bank’s attorney, filed a motion to reassess damages Monday. He previously placed the total liability at about $1.34 million plus interest and placed it at about $1.41 million Monday after adding interest, late charges and attorneys’ fees in the past year.
The couple borrowed an undisclosed amount of money from Enterprise Bank in 2007 to help finance their purchase of The Autoport.
Mussi said filing for bankruptcy gives them 120 days to present a “game plan” to the bank to pay down their debt.
There are four investors, whom Mussi declined to identify, interested in the property or business. He thinks a deal, one that could relieve them of their debt with Enterprise Bank, could be completed in the next month.
Two developers, one based in Williamsport and one out of State College, want to purchase the property and raze The Autoport and Clem’s Roadside Bar and Grill, the restaurant attached to the motel also owned by the Mussis.
“It would be difficult to do that,” Mussi said. “The historical aspect of The Autoport is very important to me. The reason we bought it was to preserve it.”
A third potential investor, who wants to run and own a portion of The Autoport, has been in talks with Mussi since last year. That person, Mussi said, has run hotels in the area. A deal with him would allow the Mussis to focus solely on running the restaurant and the investor to run the motel, possibly under a corporate flag.
“I think I’ve been criticized in the comments for saying this, but food is my passion,” Mussi said. “We’ve run a catering business for over 20 years, and I think we’re talented in providing a great service. I love doing it.”
Mussi said a fourth potential investor recently came forward who wants to preserve The Autoport but is not interested in running it.
“He sees the value in it and wants to keep it running for a long time,” Mussi said. “He’s sincerely and genuinely interested in making sure it isn’t closed and torn down.”
He said preserving The Autoport isn’t his only motive.
“First and foremost, I have 35 employees relying on this place for their livelihood,” Mussi said. “I understand that probably sounds like lip service to some people, but it is very true. I have a lot of employees that have been here for a long time. I have a 55-year-old person in the kitchen that has been here for 18 years that is sole breadwinner for her family. Giving them a place to work and provide for their families is very important to me.”
If the Mussis avoid foreclosure, they have other legal woes to address.
The Susquehanna Economic Development Association-Council of Governments filed an unrelated suit in October against The Piedmont Food Co. and Mussi Realty, both owned by the Mussis, in the amount of about $196,000 for principal, interest and attorney costs.
The Mussis took out a $200,000 Small Business First loan from SEDA-COG in 2008 and agreed to a note modification 2012. The suit alleges payments on the loan were late beginning in December 2013 and stopped entirely in April 2014.
They were also sued in October by Clem’s Cafe in Blairsville for alleged trademark infringement.
The Autoport’s financial troubles were aired in October by the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible” host Anthony Melchiorri.
The Mussis, however, credit the nationally televised show appearance with piquing the interest of potential investors and giving them a chance to keep running The Autoport.
“When we made the decision to do the show we knew what we were getting in to,” Mussi said. “It’s called ‘Hotel Impossible’ for a reason, and we put our egos and pride aside to do it. It was hard love, and we’ve had to face these things to turn it around. That’s what Chapter 11 bankruptcy gives you a chance to do. We need time to reorganize and restructure. I’m an optimist, and I’ve always believed we could keep going.”