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Originally published: 2013-07-16 20:01:44
Last modified: 2013-07-16 20:05:07

County tables $14.2M offer on old WHS

Watauga County commissioners tabled a $14.2 million offer on the former Watauga High School property Tuesday, saying it wasn't enough money and they needed more time for review.

The county received the offer from Fuqua Acquisitions, an Atlanta-based company, on Tuesday afternoon, Chairman Nathan Miller said. The company and its broker, Robert Armstrong, previously submitted an interest letter to the county June 12 and met with county staff June 20 to talk more about the proposal.

Although they talked little about plans for the site Tuesday, Miller has said previously the company was interested in a shopping area with multi-family housing.

Armstrong appeared at the meeting Tuesday evening asking for approval of the offer, saying he represented a serious, experienced buyer willing to work with what he called "onerous" demands instituted by the town of Boone.

"This is a convergence of a lot of restraints on a developer, and it takes somebody who's done this before," he said.

Miller, an attorney, said he would not agree to the contract without having more time to read it. He asked other commissioners whether they would accept the $14.2 million figure, and most murmured no.

Commissioner Perry Yates objected to the proposed 7 percent commission -- roughly $994,000 -- to be paid by the county at closing.

"My personal belief is that the commission has to be looked at hard," Yates said.

Miller countered that commissioners ought to consider the net amount to the county after the commission -- in this case, roughly $13.2 million. He proposed tabling the offer for the Aug. 6 meeting, at which time the county might decide to make a counter-offer.

The board voted 4-0 on that action at the end of the conversation, after Miller had left for another meeting.

Armstrong urged the board to look into Fuqua Development's track history and ability to complete the project.

"This is a site that has numerous challenges," Armstrong said. "Not only topography, but how you piece this together in one phase. ... We've got one of the best candidates to handle it."

He spoke about the work and cost involved with getting the land through permitting -- he estimated a $400,000 to $600,000 cost -- and said that the presence of "credible and desirous end users" was the only reason they would make the effort.

"The city of Boone has a very challenging and onerous code to go through planning, permitting and zoning," Armstrong said.

Armstrong noted that he had submitted a $27 million offer on the property in 2007, which he said was turned down at the time because it was below the asking price. He noted that both the market and the town regulations have changed significantly since that time, resulting in the lower offer now.

"What you can put on that site is less in terms of overall density than you could in 2007," he said.

Armstrong also brought an unsuccessful offer in fall 2012 on behalf of Sanctuary Management, which eventually offered $16.8 million for the property during a "bidding war" with another company during a commissioners' meeting. He asked that such a situation be avoided in the future if the county could help it.

When the county accepts an offer on the property, it will be advertised and subject to a 10-day upset bid period during which other companies can make an offer at least 5 percent higher.