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Prominent Auburn office building shows signs of life

Elm Avenue edifice stood partly constructed for many years
By: Gus Thomson, of the Auburn Journal
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A symbol of the Great Recession, a long-empty mystery monolith on Auburn’s Elm Avenue is finding new life in a recovering economy.

The prominently placed four-story office building on the edge of Downtown Auburn is under new ownership -- and attracting new tenants -- after shedding the wire security fencing that had marked its partially completed status.

The Saratoga Group real-estate finance business, relocating from Roseville to Auburn after the sale, joined  with private investor Roy Braatz to buy the 16,000-square-foot building for $1.3 million. Braatz’s Dallas-based Accounting Practice Sales and Quest Business Brokers are planning to also open offices at 373 Elm by early fall.

Saratoga Group CEO Sam Hales said the move from Roseville to Auburn was a good fit, particularly because he lives in nearby Weimar, and chief operating officer Warren Williams is a Meadow Vista resident.

The Saratoga Group, which is slated to open offices in Oakland and Modesto by the end of September, will be occupying the top floor after renovations are completed. The fourth floor was initially divided into two “penthouse suites” for residential use. The built-in entertainment center and fireplace are remnants of the abandoned vision of original developer Paul Hillesheim. Also envisioned in the initial plan were a health spa and beauty salon.

Vistion Mortgage, a lender in the real-estate business, has also moved into the building. Hales said that, with good access to Interstate 80, the office building would also be a good fit for attorneys, accountants and other professionals, as well as businesses connected to real estate.

“And we’re in discussions with a national tenant who would take the rest of the building,” Hales said.

As a landmark building in a good location, 373 Elm was hard to pass up, Williams said.

Saratoga has managed a real estate investment fund with $30 million in capital from China over the past two years and is now expanding into several financial areas and the top floor will soon serve as the Saratoga Group nerve center. Saratoga has eight full-time employees and another 10 brokers.

“We’re pretty dynamic because of the changing marketplace,” Hales said.

After winning approval from the Auburn City Council in 2002, Hillesheim – former owner of the now-shuttered Lavello Spa Salon in Lincoln Way’s historic Pullen House – slowly started to build at 373 Elm Ave. Two elevators were installed – one for offices and one for access to the penthouse suites.

But as the economy slowed, so too did the project and it was eventually forfeited to a bank, becoming a prominent symbol of the burst real estate bubble.  Saratoga bought the property after the bank had sold it to a new owner, who had completed much of the initial construction project.

On Monday, Ellis & Ellis Sign Systems of Sacramento raised a symbol of the long-empty Elm Avenue building’s rebirth – the first permanent, prominent sign displayed on its exterior advertising a business inside.