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Date of Issue: October 15, 2008

Byrne estate value tumbles

Modern art?
This "great work of art" formerly owned by ex-Island real estate developer Robert Byrne, and painted by noted Australian artist Stephen McClymont, recently sold at auction for $450. The auctioneer opened the bidding at $10,000. Islander Photo: Courtesy Kent Davis

Just three years ago, former Island real estate developer Robert Byrne displayed a $30 million personal financial statement to potential investors in his now-failed company, GSR Development LLC.

But as Bob Dylan said, “The times they are-a-changin.’” And how.

 With both GSR and Byrne in separate bankruptcy cases, Byrne told the federal bankruptcy court earlier this year he had a mere $500 in assets.

He might be able to add $450 to the total that could eventually be divvied up among his many creditors following an Oct. 4 auction of his personal possessions at Bay Area Auction Sales in Pinellas Park.

 Make that an auction sale of his sole personal possession. The only item brought to the sale by the court that, according to court documents, belonged solely to Byrne and had no mortgage or lien against it was an abstract painting of what appears to be leaves on a tree.

Island resident Kent Davis, who is owed money by Byrne, attended the auction and said the event was a series of bankruptcy estate sales. The Byrne estate had one item listed — the painting.

Other items auctioned were “mostly a collection of bad items like you’d find at a discount garage sale,” said Davis with a chuckle.

He said the auctioneer did his best to boost interest in the painting, characterizing the 6-foot-by-6-foot monolith as a “great work of art.” That brought a round of laughter from the sparse crowd, Davis said.

When the painting was brought to the front for display, Davis said the laughter continued as people saw it was an abstract, appearing like of tree leaves, and entitled “On Coral.”

One man wondered aloud if the painting and ensuing laughter were part of a new “Candid Camera” skit, Davis said.

 “The auctioneer explained that the painting was from a bankruptcy estate and that on the back it still had the original price tag of $18,000,” added Davis.

The purchase price brought a howl from the audience, he said, that continued when the auctioneer started the bidding at $10,000. With no takers, the auctioneer then lowered the opening bid to $5,000, then $2,500, but those prices brought nary a nod from the apparently discerning art connoisseurs in attendance.

At this point, said Davis, the auctioneer reiterated that this was a “rare work of art” by Australian modern-artist Stephen McClymont and dropped the price to $1,000, but still no bids were forthcoming.

Davis said that when the auctioneer lowered the opening bid to $250, “two people, who obviously couldn’t resist a bargain, bid the price up to $450, and that was the final price,” adding that he was unable to locate the buyer following the conclusion of the auction.

“I think they made a hasty exit before they could be asked about their purchase. That buyer must have had one heck of an ugly wall to cover,” he said.

As a creditor trying to collect more than $100,000 from Byrne, Davis is dismayed that the bankruptcy court could find no other assets.

 “It’s amazing how this painting represents Robert Byrnes’ entire $30 million fortune after only three years. It’s hard to believe this is the only unencumbered asset the court has been able to find,” Davis said.

Davis and other Byrne creditors have claimed in court that Byrne owes about $5 million through various personal guarantees given when attracting investors to GSR, which is now in the final throes of its bankruptcy case.