The apparent buyers of Rockcliffe Mansion plan major renovations that will return the tourist attraction to its former grandeur.

 


   The apparent buyers of Rockcliffe Mansion plan major renovations that will return the tourist attraction to its former grandeur.
   As the Courier-Post first reported online Wednesday morning, 51-year-old Warren Bittner and 48-year-old Juan Ruiz-Bello of Miami have submitted a $567,000 bid for the historic Hannibal home built more than a century ago by lumber baron John Cruikshank at 1000 Bird Street.
   The bid will be considered April 5 by a court in Shreveport, La., where former owner Rick Rose filed for bankruptcy in April 2009. A closing is set for April 9 in St. Louis.
   “I am recommending that the court authorize me to sell Rockcliffe to Warren Bittner and Juan Ruiz,” court-appointed attorney John S. Hodge said in a e-mail message to the Courier-Post. “I will not solicit competing bids. The acceptance of the non-contingent offer from Bittner/Ruiz is in the best interest of the bankruptcy estate and its creditors because it offers the greatest recovery to the creditors without subjecting to them to any additional risks due to uncertainties.”
   Bittner, the deputy city attorney in Miami, said and he and Ruiz-Bello, a Miami banker, had eyed a purchase for about a year, but couldn’t afford it until the price dropped recently. They plan extensive restoration.
   “I’m a perfectionist and very meticulous with renovations,” Bittner said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning. “It would all be from the period the Cruikshank family lived in the house.”
   The first order would be to repair broken stained glass windows, Bittner said. Then, more intensive work would begin to fix the roof, electrical system and plumbing. The pipes in four of the 13,500-square-foot home’s seven bathrooms don’t work, he said.
   Bittner and Ruiz-Bello also hope to restore the four acres of gardens and grounds, and will keep the house open for tours, a bed and breakfast and community events.
   Bittner said he would visit Hannibal soon after the closing and that he and Ruiz-Bello plan to use Rockcliffe as a summer home when both retire in about five years.
   Bittner said he lives in a Miami Shores, Fla., home that, like Rockcliffe, is on the National Register of Historic Places. He said he also has been heavily involved in South Florida historic preservation.
   Bittner has asked a bankruptcy judge to order Rose to return what he said was $32,000 in items Rose allegedly sold from Rockcliffe.
   “I would like anything that was taken to be restored,” Bittner said.
   Rose was not available for comment Wednesday.
   Ken and Lisa Marks, who have leased the mansion since September and have pushed for its preservation, were excited about the bid. Bittner has asked them to continue managing the estate.
   “We are so pleased to have been contacted by a buyer who has the same idea that we do that Rockcliffe should remain open as a museum,” Lisa Marks said. “We’re excited that we may be able to be part of the mansion’s future.”
   Hodge’s decision to accept the bid kills efforts by a group of Hannibal residents who formed a non-profit corporation to buy and preserve Rockcliffe.
   James F. Lemon, the Hannibal attorney who filed the incorporation papers, said the group’s last bid was $600,000 but did not include a down payment required by Hodge.
   Lemon said he was told the group had come up with the financing for a down payment and “probably would be willing to offer more than ($567,000) again.”
   “Although I may have been able to obtain a higher price from others, I am not willing to run the risk of accepting other contingent bids for Rockcliffe,” Hodge said in his e-mail.
   The Markses put in the original $700,000 bid to buy Rockcliffe last August, but missed a Sept. 30 deadline to arrange financing. A Colorado couple later bid $705,000, but withdrew the offer after a visit.
   Hodge rejected a $710,000 bid from James and Robin Gillette of Fountain, Fla., after the couple missed a Nov. 19 inspection deadline. The Hannibal group later submitted a $750,000 offer, but Hodge turned it away because it didn’t include a down payment.
   Meanwhile, Hodge said a closing was held last week on a former Rose-owned property at 301 N. Fifth and that a hearing is set for April 5 on a duplex Rose once had at 512 to 514 N. Fifth in Hannibal.