Halsey Minor Barely Escapes Foreclosure

Readers of this column know that I’ve written numerous times about CNet cofounder Halsey Minor, both here and in the now-defunct Conde Nast magazine Portfolio.

It’s been hard not to watch Minor with some fascination. Minor was phenomenally successful at a young age. CNet went public just four years after its 1992 founding, netting him around $100 million by the time he left the company in 2000 at age 35; as an early investor in Salesforce, Minor made roughly $300 million more several years later.

The last five years, however, have seemingly, steadily been leading to disaster. Indeed, when I spoke last year to a former CNet board member about Minor, he called Minor a “pathological” person who sees everything as a “zero-sum game” —  and down to zero he is getting.

After years of lavish spending — including laying out nearly $100 million on several princely properties in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Williamsburg, Va., beginning in 2006; buying up multimillion-dollar racehorses; and outfitting his homes and offices with work by some of the world’s most famous artists — Minor has apparently been socked by one purchase too many: to wit, a nine-story, 100-room luxury hotel. Slated to cost him $30 million and to open in downtown Charlottesville, Va., last July, the unfinished hotel is instead mired in liens and lawsuits and earlier today nearly caused Minor to lose his family’s long-held home, an estate in Charlottesville featuring a Federal-style mansion with high-ceilinged rooms, a bevy of horse stables, and 205-acres of rolling green grounds that are nothing short of breathtaking.

While a foreclosure sale was stalled by Minor’s attorney this afternoon, when he bid $1.39 million for the property on the steps of the Albermarle County Circuit Courthouse in Charlottesville, Minor had to put down $75,000 of the bid to settle a loan secured against the property earlier this year. Minor tells The Hook, Charlottesville’s paper of record, that the loan came from various investors, including Virginia National Bank founding president Mark Giles, who attended the auction and made several bids himself, helping to drive up the $1.1 million opening bid.

Still, Minor has just 30 days to make good on the balance owed to Giles, according to the paper. Meanwhile, Minor has a $6.7 million first mortgage on the property from First Republic Bank. The Hook further reports that there was one other bidder who went as high as $1,350,000; that person will have first dibs on Minor’s estate if he fails to close before February 3.

Minor has shown he still has a penchant for identifying trends and talent. At Minor Ventures in San Francisco, a self-funded investment firm that Minor launched several years ago, a number of the half dozen or so startups that Minor seed-funded have been enjoying successful trajectories. GrandCentral was one of the first companies in Minor Ventures’ stable; it sold to Google for $50 million in 2007. Last July, Sequoia Capital and Greylock Partners pounced on another Minor-backed startup, OpenDNS, providing the startup with an undisclosed amount of second-round funding, according to TechCrunch. (At the time, TC characterized the transaction as “one of the most competitive venture capital deals in recent history.”)

For more on Minor’s financial travails, here is some of our earlier coverage.