Roy MacDowell Jr. rose from landscaper to one of the region’s most sought-after developers, and as he prospered, he renovated and rebuilt the home on the Wayland property he’s owned for nearly 40 years, culminating in 2001 with the construction of a 28-room mansion.
But like many people, MacDowell was hard hit in the recent real estate bust, left with debt he couldn’t pay, a house he couldn’t sell, and a lender poised to foreclose. But unlike most homeowners, MacDowell’s foreclosure was initiated by a friend.
MacDowell’s palatial estate is scheduled to go on the auction block Friday to satisfy an $8.3 million debt to Boston construction magnate John Fish, who, in published reports, has described MacDowell as a longtime friend. Both Fish and MacDowell declined to comment.
An auction is probably not how MacDowell planned to leave his longtime home, which includes six bathrooms, four half-baths, a home theater, and a lush oak-paneled library, as well as acreage to exercise horses and land a helicopter. When he first put the property on the market in 2011 he asked $25 million, a price that made a big splash on the pages of the Wall Street Journal’s home section.
But later in 2011, he dropped the price to $21 million, and most recently slashed it to $12 million. The town of Wayland values the property at about $8 million.
The size of the house makes it a difficult sell even in a well-to-do suburb such as Wayland, said Frederic Turkington Jr., the town administrator. In Wayland’s priciest neighborhoods, homes tend to run about one-fifth of the size of MacDowell’s estate, Turkington said.
“They’re nice people; I hope for the best,” Turkington said of MacDowell and his family. “Given the size of the house, there’s a limited niche of buyers who would be interested in it.”
‘Given the size of the house, there’s a limited niche of buyers.’ —FREDERIC TURKINGTON JR., Wayland town administrator
MacDowell, who grew up in Waltham and went to Babson College, started out in the landscaping business before branching into real estate investment. He built several upscale apartment projects in downtown Waltham and bought the former Waltham Hospital, redeveloped it as a medical center, and sold it to Boston Children’s Hospital.
He was at the top of his game — with a Rolls-Royce in his garage and seats on the boards of several nonprofits — until late 2008.
By then, the real estate market was spiraling downward and banks, in the throes of the financial crisis, were cutting off credit. MacDowell was left with several projects in development, loans to repay, and no access to additional capital.
MacDowell owed Wachovia Bank, now Wells Fargo, and other banks about $43 million, according to court documents. He was also a mezzanine lender, loaning other developers money that he had borrowed from banks. So when those developers suffered losses in the real estate crash, they couldn’t pay MacDowell back, and he couldn’t pay his lenders.
Wachovia Bank took him to court trying to recoup its money. Creditors, like Fish, also went to court, to try to ensure that they would get paid.
According to court documents, Fish personally lent MacDowell and his company, Boulder Capital LLC, $6 million in a note dated April 1, 2008, with the promise that he would start getting repaid by mid-August that year. The purpose of the loan is unclear. When he took the loan from Fish, MacDowell indicated that he had real estate investments in Massachusetts worth about $35 million, according to court records.
But August came and went. MacDowell, in an attempt to shield his home from creditors, had transferred ownership of it into a trust for $10 the month before, according to court documents.
In October, in an attempt to get his money back, Fish asked a judge to rule that he had first claim to the Wayland house. The men, however, settled the case in late 2009, with MacDowell agreeing to pay Fish the original loan amount, interest, and attorney’s fees.
By May of this year, the amount owed to Fish had grown to $8.3 million, according to real estate records. And with no buyers in sight, a company tied to Fish quietly filed papers indicating that he would begin foreclosure proceedings on MacDowell’s house.
The real estate company, Benoit Mizner Simon & Co., still features the Wayland estate prominently on its website; earlier this week, the listing broker indicated that a last-minute deal could save the property from the auction block. But as of Thursday night, the auction was stilll on.
Despite his recent struggles in real estate, MacDowell has stayed in the real estate business and may be on his way to new success. In Hopkinton, MacDowell’s company, Baystone Development, is the master developer of Legacy Farms, a massive mixed-used project of more than 900 units on the former Weston Nurseries site, with some affordable housing offerings.
The first apartment building, which could take more than a decade to complete, recently started leasing, said Elaine Lazarus, Hopkinton’s land use director.
“It was initiated in the downturn, in anticipation in the future upturn,” Lazarus said. “Things do seem to be progressing well.”