A secret non-profit organization is interested in buying Hamilton’s historic Auchmar Estate, but councillors have turned down the idea of private negotiations in favour of a public call for offers.

Councillors on the general issues committee narrowly turned down the idea of a special negotiation, despite city manager Chris Murray arguing the nonprofit's offer is significant and unique enough to hold off on the planned request for proposals for the historic mansion.

The non-profit has enough money to buy, renovate and maintain the building, and is “national, if not international,” said Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8.

The development would generate less traffic than a restaurant and the proposed use would be compatible with the neighbourhood, he said.

But the non-profit's aversion to going public was a factor in the 7-6 Monday to move ahead with the current plan of issuing an RFP.

“How does this benefit the city to preempt the RFP and sole source it?” Coun. Brad Clark said.

Located at 88 Fennell Ave. W., Auchmar is a 3.77-hectare site and former home of Hamilton merchant and politician Isaac Buchanan, who built the Gothic manor house in 1852.

The city bought Auchmar in 1999, and it's sat empty since 2001.

A request for expressions of interest drew seven potential takers last year, Murray said. But only two had enough money to be viable.

“It looks like to me, and I think to the councillor, that this is as good a candidate to really address what has been a long-standing need of this council in terms of getting that development repositioned and off our books,” he said.

It’s a good opportunity, but the organization doesn’t want to be named, Whitehead said. And council would still approve the final agreement. This is just to stop the RFP.

Coun. Jason Farr of Ward 2 voted with Whitehead, saying it would be better than the building sitting empty.

“The important factor is years of stagnation,” he said.

But others didn’t like the secrecy of it, or the notion of this project going outside the usual process.

Whitehead said later that he hopes the organization is still interested.