Butler County agrees to $14 million property value drop for Liberty Center

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Butler County has agreed to reduce the property value of Liberty Center by $14 million, less than the mall owner’s request for a $58 million value drop.

The Butler County Board of Revision issued its decision Thursday to set the property value as of Jan. 1, 2020 at $124 million, rather than the $138 million reappraised value set by Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds’ office. Liberty Center owners wanted the value reduced to $80 million.

The application states the reason as “Recent sale(s) of comparable properties. Physical, economic, functional depreciation or obsolescence. Economic valuation based on gross or net income.”

Butler County Development Director David Fehr, who is on the three-member revision board, said his decision was based on appraisals offered by the mall owners and the auditor’s appraisers.

“I did put weight in their appraisal, although there were some gaps and things I would have liked to see in their appraisal, I think at the end of the day his analysis seemed reasonable to me,” Fehr told the Journal-News. “Based on the number of vacancies there and the income that was being generated by Liberty Center in comparison to other malls in the area. I did feel that was a fair true market value of the property.”

The owners and managers of the development have not returned multiple phone calls seeking comment. Steiner + Associates developed the property, but Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance Inc. now controls the retail operation.

Some of the properties include the Cheesecake Factory, the Cobb Liberty Luxury 15 and CineBistro and the Foundry but not Dillards or iFly.

Mike Gildea, an appraiser for Reynolds’ office, said Liberty Center can appeal the decision to the state but because of a new state law can also apply for a further reduction due to the pandemic. The current case only involved the pre-pandemic value, he said they intend to argue in October the property is only worth $60 million due to the crisis.

“They’ll be allowed to present information on how COVID impacted their numbers,“ Gildea said. “And it’s not good there are actually two appraisals on Liberty Center. There is one prior to COVID and one after COVID was in full swing and they are night and day appraisals.”

The BOR panel, comprised of representatives from the auditor, commissioners and treasurer’s offices, held a hearing in July on the request but continued it pending further information.

The properties are part of the University Pointe tax increment financing district, so tax revenues to local jurisdictions, other than the Lakota Schools, only totaled $3,725 for this year. Since 2015, Lakota has received $21.3 million from the TIF, and the annual payments would be impacted by a reduction.

Lakota Schools Treasurer/CFO Jenni Logan said the district did not challenge the revision request.

The county commissioners and Liberty Twp. forged a complicated development deal with the developer that included $37 million in taxpayer-backed bonds to build the parking garage and water lines for the project. There have been issues with the bond payments over the past couple years.

Any property devaluation would not impact that deal struck with the original developer Steiner + Associates because there are built-in guarantees.

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