The city received two higher offers — one for $67,500 more — for a building it owns than the price City Council is considering accepting, the Journal-News has learned.
At last week’s council meeting, members were told Toast of the Town Events LLC, offered $135,000 for the Bank One building, 2 S. Main St., and artist and owner Chris Walden planned to convert the building into an art gallery and event center. They heard a presentation from Doug Adkins, director of community revitalization, and will vote on the emergency legislation at their next meeting, April 15.
Adkins told council the offer was unsolicited and said it made “good sense” because it generated revenue, fit the downtown business plan and got the city out of the landlord business.
Council member Dora Bronston questioned Adkins why the city decided to sell the building now when it had received offers before. Adkins told council the city hadn’t received any offers, only inquiries about the city-owned property.
Bronston again asked Adkins if the city had only received inquires, but no offers.
“That is correct,” he told Bronston.
But the Journal-News learned Monday that Mike Robinette, a Middletown developer and the city’s former economic development manager, made two offers to purchase the Bank One building. The first offer, dated March 24, 2014, was for $185,000 and it was signed by Steve Coon, one of Robinette’s business partners. The second offer, with the same date, was for $202,500, $67,500 more than the city is considering accepting. That one was signed by Robinette.
When questioned about it Monday, Adkins told the Journal-News the city was “already in negotiations” with Walden when Robinette’s offers were received, and the city typically only actively negotiates with one party at a time.
He said he expects council to approve the deal on the table, reject the deal, or give staff direction to complete some other action regarding this property.
“Some people were unhappy when the city purchased these buildings,” Adkins said. “Some people complained that the city shouldn’t be landlords or own property. Now that we are considering getting out of owning and leasing the buildings and are doing so at a small profit, some people are upset that we didn’t make enough profit. There are always going to be critics of any action taken.”
On Monday, when asked why she was persistent at the last council meeting, Bronston said she had received several phone calls from “concerned citizens” about the potential sale of the Bank One building. Bronston refused to answer additional questions, saying some of the discussions with City Council and city officials occurred in executive session.
Robinette told the Journal-News his first offer was rejected by city leaders, so his company increased its offer by $17,500, or just under 9 percent. When he had asked about the building and if the city was interested in selling it, he was told the building was not on the market, he said. Robinette received an e-mail from Gilleland that said the city appreciated his offer and what his company had done to stimulate the downtown economy, he said.
So, he said, his company “dropped the matter,” but after he learned the property was for sale, he submitted proposals.
He said his company had hoped to renovate the former bank building and convert it for commercial use and possibly highlight Middletown’s rich history in the steel, paper and banking business.
He said the city has “a certain amount of liberty” who buys buildings, but he wished bids would have been accepted, following the procedures outlined in Section 200.09 of the Codified Ordinance of the city of Middletown that states any city-owned property valued at more than $5,000 must be advertised in the newspaper or general circulation in the city, and the city should receive bids for at least 15 calendar days.
“The city should get the highest and best price they can get,” Robinette said. “There should have been a public competitive process so they could test the market.”
The building is valued at $137,980, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office.
The city paid $275,000 in December 2010 to the Perry Thatcher estate for several downtown properties: CG&E Building, First National building, Masonic Temple and the Bank One building, Adkins said. He said the city received $202,000 from Higher Education Partners for the purchase of the former CG&E Building that is being used by Cincinnati State Middletown. If the Bank One building is sold, the city would make $62,000 off its investment.
City Council has donated the First National building to Cincinnati State Middletown and the Masonic Temple building to the Art Central Foundation.