The building that has housed Cape Fear Serpentarium in downtown Wilmington for 17 years was part of a New Hanover County Superior Court petition earlier this month seeking a private sale of the property.
An announcement Monday on the serpentarium's Facebook page said the attraction at 20 Orange St. had closed permanently, and the building and the animals will be sold. Workers appeared to be preparing to pack up the serpentarium's contents Tuesday morning.
Cape Fear Serpentarium owner Dean Ripa was shot and killed in May last year, and his wife, Regina Ripa, is charged with first degree murder in the slaying.
A petition was filed May 3 this year on behalf of the Ripas' son, Arkin Ripa, to sell the serpentarium building, along with property at 705 N. College Road and 50 percent shares of both 627 N. College Road and 713 N. College Road in a private sale.
Efforts to confirm with court officials whether the petition had been granted in full at a hearing Monday morning were not immediately successful Tuesday.
An appraisal in June of last year valued the 10,000-square-foot two-story serpentarium building at $985,000, according to court documents.
Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Wilmington Downtown Inc., said Tuesday that he was surprised by the news that the serpentarium had closed permanently.
Of the serpentarium property in general, Wolverton said, "It's a very key piece of property being right there at the corner of Orange and South Front streets. It provides a transition from the residential area farther south and them more of a commercial core coming back toward Market Street."
Explaining why Arkin Ripa's interests would be served by a sale of the serpentarium building, the May 3 petition said that 20 Orange St. "is in need of significant repairs and maintenance, is a significant expense and liability risk in its current poor condition and use, and is difficult to be rented or leased in its current condition."
But the court documents also say that on April 24, the petitioner, attorney Lawrence Craige, acting as guardian of the estate for Arkin Ripa, had received an offer to lease the property. Venom Central LLC had been seeking a one-year lease beginning May 1 at the monthly rental amount of $3,650 a month. The proposed lease required the tenant to pay all utilities and included a $1 million commercial general liability policy.
The principal of Venom Central LLC is William Beard, who had been serving as director of Cape Fear Serpentarium.
An announcement on the attraction's Facebook page Monday said, "Unfortunately, we are announcing that the Cape Fear Serpentarium is now permanently closed and being dismantled at this very moment. The animals and the building are going to be sold. Despite our best efforts in trying to keep this attraction for Wilmington, this plan to sell the serpentarium was already in motion – unbeknownst to us. All we can hope for is the best possible outcome for Arkin Ripa, Dean’s son."
Messages left with Beard and Craige seeking more information were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The May 3 petition said that it is in the best interest of Arkin Ripa that the serpentarium building and his interest in the North College Road properties "be sold in such a way and on such terms as may be most advantageous to the interest of Arkin and pursuant to the procedure" for a private sale as provided by a state statute.
The parcels at 627 and 705 N. College Road are vacant lots, according to the petition. The property at 713 N. College Road is being rented on a month-to-month basis for $2,000 a month, the petition states.
Arkin Ripa now lives with his aunt and uncle in Wilmington, the petition states. In a postnuptial agreement between Dean and Regina Ripa in 2009, Regina Ripa had "surrendered, transferred or released her interests" in Dean Ripa's property, according to court documents, and had not filed a claim against the estate within the time allowed by state statute.
Property formerly owned by Dean Ripa at 201 S. Water St., which houses Museum of the Bizarre, was bought from the estate by Museum of the Bizarre owner and downtown businessman Justin LaNasa for about $395,000 in August last year.