Critic calls sale of Walnut Commons land a 'sweetheart deal'

Critic calls sale of Walnut Commons land a 'sweetheart deal'

June 20th, 2017 by Tim Omarzu in Business Around the Region

Helen Burns Sharp (standing) raises questions about the Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Corporations's sale of the city-owned property under Walnut Commons to the apartme building's owners at the CDRC's meeting Monday afternoon.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The owners of the Walnut Commons Apartment complex now own the land underneath their building, since a city of Chattanooga board voted Monday afternoon to sell the city-owned property for $970,000.

City officials and the attorney for owners of the apartment just south of the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge said they bridged a wide gap between the owners' initial offer of $650,000 for the land and the city's desired $1.1 million.

"I think $950,000 is a reasonable amount," Bob Parsley, a lawyer with the downtown firm Miller & Martin which represents Walnut Commons LLC, told the Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Corporation (CDRC), before it approved the sale.

City Finance Officer Daisy Madison negotiated the sale price on behalf of the CDRC, which Madison chairs, and CDRC board member David Dalton gave Madison a vote of confidence.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 10/27/14. Walnut Commons in downtown Chattanooga.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

"She negotiated it, and that's what she brought back," Dalton said.

Voting in favor of the resolution were CDRC board members Stacy Richardson, Daisy Madison, David Dalton and Julian Bell, III. City Councilman Jerry Mitchell abstained.

Helen Burns Sharp, a critic of the city's payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program, isn't happy with the sales price. The city should have stuck to its guns at $1.1 million, she said.

Walnut Commons was the first housing project to be given the property tax breaks about a decade ago.

"This is yet another part of the sweetheart deal," Sharp said after the CDRC's vote. "Today's gift: Reduced purchase price. Past gifts: No property taxes for 14 years; the only PILOT since 2008 not to pay school taxes; no parking garage, which was required in two agreements; no set-asides of any units for low- and moderate-income persons, which is the public purpose in the state law allowing tax breaks for housing."

Also, the apartment's current owner Nebraska- based owner will be able to pass along the tax breaks to a new South Carolina-based owner, Sharp said.

"It's about to be the third owner," she said. "When [the first owner] sold it, they made a $4 million profit. They sold it to a Nebraska company, and now the Nebraska company is wanting to sell it."

Sharp, a retired city planner, successfully sued the city's Industrial Development Board to stop what Sharp said were a series of secret deliberations over how to distribute millions in tax dollars — $9 million of which went to help the developer of a golf course near Aetna Mountain, according to newspaper archives.

"If I weren't out of steam and money, this whole thing could make a wonderful lawsuit," she said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or on Twitter @meetfor business or 423-757-6651.