County seeks $16.5M offer on old WHS
by Kellen Moore
With two offers on the table for the former Watauga High School property, the Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to accept neither, encouraging potential buyers to return with offers of $16.5 million or higher.
The first proposal, submitted Sept. 27 by Campus Crest
Development and its buyer’s agent, Rick Miller, offered $15 million for the roughly
Miller said Tuesday that the developer’s initial plans call for 250 to 500 student apartment units, along with retail space.
second offer, received by the county late Monday afternoon from Place
Acquisition and agent Tim Hagaman, was for $15.5 million.
Attorney Tony di Santi, who is working on their behalf, said the group was still determining how the property might be used. Place Acquisition typically develops student and military housing with retail, entertainment and restaurant components, he said.
The emphasis on mixed-use developments seemed to resonate with several commissioners.
“It is a unique property,” Vice Chairman Vince Gable said. “There’s not another one like it, especially in that locale. My main purpose on that property is to have it develop jobs for the community and sales tax revenue and property tax revenue.”
Both proposed offers include 180-day inspection periods during which the potential buyer could walk away from the deal without forfeiting any money.
Both offers are private ventures not associated with Appalachian State University, which would ensure that they are kept on the property tax rolls.
Neither offer was contingent upon the developer receiving a loan, and neither included the 5 percent deposit to the county that is required by statute. Representatives from both groups indicated that they were unaware of that requirement previously but would be able and willing to meet it.
The Campus Crest Development offer also includes two contingencies. First, the county must ensure that the Town of Boone would permanently extend the previous water allocation of 365,367 gallons per month at the site.
Chairman Nathan Miller, who has said he is not related to Rick Miller, said he believed that would not be a problem. The Town Council has agreed to provide up to 150,000 gallons per day at the site through the end of 2013, he said.
The Campus Crest offer also stated that the county would have to ensure that a traffic light was reinstalled at N.C. 105 and High School Drive.
Nathan Miller said the county would be willing to advocate for a traffic light but that the N.C. Department of Transportation would have the final say.
The second offer, from Place Acquisitions, does not include water or traffic contingencies. Di Santi said the company is a joint venture between Phillip Clark Fine Custom Builders of Atlanta and Cecil Phillips of Place Acquisitions.
He said the company has more than 25 years of experience and includes a total of 60,000 beds in its housing communities, which include on- and off-campus student housing, off-post military homes and traditional housing communities.
Di Santi said the company strives for a “destination community” feel to include entertainment, retail stores and restaurants in addition to housing.
In addition to the contingencies on the water allocation and traffic light, the offers diverge on the commission requested for the buyers’ agents.
The Campus Crest offer requests a 10 percent commission to be paid by the county, while the Place Acquisitions requests a 6 percent commission for its agent upon closing.
The board voted unanimously to recognize Rick Miller as the agent for Campus Crest Development and Tim Hagaman as the agent for Place Acquisitions, a motion that means the county would not work with the two companies without involvement from those local agents.
Nathan Miller said both agents had worked hard to create viable offers for presentation and that they should be protected.
Commissioner Jim Deal was the first to address the price, saying he would recommend a counteroffer of $20 million.
Gable said he thought $16.5 million was a fair value given the current economy and an appraisal conducted last year, which estimated the property’s market value as $7.87 million.
Nathan Miller said he supported Gable’s suggestion.
“That’s substantially more than both appraisals,” he said. “This will help us in the amount we owe on the new high school, and it will help us with the tax base.”
County commissioners voted unanimously to have County Attorney Stacy “Four” Eggers work with each developer — and any others that may submit offers — to standardize the offers to address several the issues raised by the county. They also stipulated that the offers must meet or exceed a $16.5 million threshold.
County Manager Deron Geouque said he also plans to contact Lincoln Harris, which submitted a $7 million offer last year, to see if the company’s leaders “want to throw their hat in the ring.”
The board will wait until the Oct. 16 meeting to consider the revised offers, if any are made.
“We’d love to see both of y’all Oct. 16,” Nathan Miller said.
“And bring more with you,” Commissioner David Blust added.