A former Coast Guard light station built 34 miles off North Carolina's coast is being put up for auction by the Charlotte man who turned it into the world's strangest bed and breakfast.
The Frying Pan Tower, which sits outside the United States' jurisdiction, has a starting bid of $10,000.
That's about $75,000 less than what Richard Neal paid for it back in 2010, but he's optimistic. Neal believes it will likely go for six figures, given the nation's booming housing market. Auction details will be posted soon on www.FPTower.com.
Hundreds of people have stayed at the tower since he started renting rooms in 2012, and more than a few have expressed an interest in buying the place, he says.
The big question, he says, is what the next owner might do with it, given the countless possibilities.
"I've heard talk of everything from a casino to a brothel to marijuana growing," says Neal, whose "day job" is as a software sales engineer for a large California-based company. "They could probably do it legally, but we're hoping for someone who has a more, how should I say this, public type of interest with it."
When Neal bought the light station, the Coast Guard had a lot of rules, including a stipulation that the buyer purchase it sight unseen. That's because there were fears of liability during tours, Neal said.
In a move that many have said was crazy, Neal decided to bid $11,262 for the tower and turned out to be the high bidder. However, the Coast Guard thought that was a little low, so they negotiated a price of $85,000, which Neal thought was more than fair.
At that point, an Oklahoma native who had been on the ocean only once before became the official owner of a rust-covered light house that towered 140 feet above the Atlantic.
Neal says his mission was to turn it into an inn while keeping the structure largely intact as a monument to 1960s construction ingenuity.
It was built in 1964 at a cost of $2 million to warn passing ships of the shallow Frying Pan Shoals. The Coast Guard staffed it until 1979, when the beacon was automated. Then GPS navigation made the tower obsolete.
Neal says his risk paid off in countless ways. He loves the excitement of the tower, and business has been great, thanks to people who want a unique, if not strange, bed-and-breakfast experience.
On at least three occasions, Neal says he's been on the tower during hurricanes, including when the eye passed directly over the tower as he sat there.
"It's just the wind and the rain and an occasional flying fish," says Neal. "The ocean goes from small waves to giant hills of water, and the color of the water turns into the most amazing aqua sherbert, because it's frothed up with air. The waves are as wide as the tower, but it was built so well, you don't move. The waves just pass by. It's incredible."
So why is he selling?
Neal says he's proven everything he set out to prove, including the fact such a crazy project could work. His prices are robust prices: $598 per person for a three-day stay, or $1,295 if you prefer to take a helicopter to the tower rather than a boat. Meals included.
He's nearing 60 now and believes it's time for someone younger to step in.
"It's truly a place to ignore the world, but I'm just ready to let go," Neal says. "Owning it has been the most fun I've had in my entire life, and I'll leave with a million stories to tell. Who knows, maybe I'll find a decommissioned oil rig in the Gulf and turn it into a franchise."