NEWFANE -- And the winner is ... Peoples United Bank.

The Bridgeport, Conn., -based bank on Thursday was the successful bidder at a foreclosure auction of the historic Four Columns Inn property in Newfane.

Though Peoples United representatives did not comment, those familiar with the process said the auction's outcome may lay the groundwork for a third party to purchase the hotel/restaurant property directly from the bank.

That's encouraging news for Maryland resident Tony Amato, who was an unsuccessful bidder on Thursday and pledged that he will continue to pursue the Four Columns.

"My hope is that the bank will be willing to work with us," Amato said. "We have been the only party that has done all the necessary due diligence."

The landmark inn was constructed in 1832. Its latest owners were Bruce and Debbie Pfander, who bought the West Street property in 2004.

The Four Columns closed this spring. And Peoples United, which held the mortgage on the property, foreclosed on Pfander Realty LLC.

That led to Thursday's auction, where bidding began at $750,000. Less than an hour later, Peoples United emerged as the winner with an $850,000 bid.

The financial move allows the bank to officially take ownership of the property from Pfander Realty.

Thomas Saturley of Portland, Maine-based Tranzon Auction Properties, which handled Thursday's proceedings in Newfane, said he could not comment on Peoples United's intentions for the property.

But Saturley said such bank purchases often happen in order to wrap up foreclosure proceedings.

"It's not uncommon to do a two-step process. The bank is the successful bidder (initially)," Saturley said. "You have to conclude the foreclosure process, and that's what we did today."

A Peoples United representative on site declined to comment, deferring to a corporate communications office that did not respond to questions Thursday afternoon.

Saturley, though, said he spoke to several "interested parties" during the auction.

One of them was Amato, who traveled to Newfane with his wife, Jill. It was not their first visit, as the couple recalled that their initial encounter with the Four Columns came in February.

"We knew we had found the one that was for us," Tony Amato said.

He said talks with the property's then-owners led to a contract to purchase the inn. But the deal subsequently fell through.

"We had to step aside, but we continued to work and prepare for the possibility of an auction," Amato said.

He was the last bidder competing with Peoples United on Thursday and clearly was disappointed in the auction's outcome.

But Amato said he and his wife are Connecticut natives who "love Vermont and love New England." They are interested in both owning and operating the Four Columns.

"We're looking to live here and be part of the community and manage this property as part of our life," Amato said.

The property includes a 4,700-square-foot main building with nine guest rooms; a 6,500-square-foot reception/restaurant building with six guest rooms; a 1,900-square-foot owner's residence and management office; and an outdoor pool.

Delinquent taxes on the property now stand at $26,379, town records show.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.