Liberty Center $31 million value reduction under consideration: What it would mean

Liberty Center in Liberty Twp. had its hearing with the Butler County Board of Revision Thursday on an application to reduce their property value by $31 million. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Liberty Center in Liberty Twp. had its hearing with the Butler County Board of Revision Thursday on an application to reduce their property value by $31 million. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Butler County Board of Revision heard Liberty Center’s appeal to have property values reduced by $31 million Thursday and tabled it pending further information from the owners of the $350 million mega mixed use development.

Liberty Center filed applications March 5 asking for property value reductions on eight of 18 parcels that are currently valued at a total of $124.4 million. The form 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.”

Some of the properties include the Cheesecake Factory, the Cobb Liberty Luxury 15 and CineBistro, the Foundry and parking garages.

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 does not plan to challenge the revision request.

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds is in charge of the BOR which is comprised of a representative from his office, the commissioners and County Treasurer Nancy Nix. Development Director David Fehr was at the hearing representing the commissioners, and he said they received a 300-page appraiser’s report that looked at similar mall developments.

“My question of the appraiser was at least in his report he did not look at The Greene shopping center in Dayton, which was also a Steiner project,” Fehr said about the hearing. “I felt like that was a very good comparable and I would have liked to see data on that, in my opinion I felt like that was a weakness in his information.”

Fehr said the appraiser provided numbers from a few out-of-state malls as well as some information from Rookwood Pavilion and Kenwood Mall, “they’re supposed to try to find comparable projects.” Fehr said Liberty Center will provide them with some more information on their financials and the board has 30 days to make a decision.

ExploreOfficials debate: Liberty Center requests $31 million property value reduction

Reynolds’ office undertook a mandated property reevaluation last year and values went up on average 14.5%. Chief Deputy County Auditor Dawn Mills said they received 773 applications to challenge property values. A property valuation change does not automatically mean a tax bill reduction.

Nix said she has participated personally on a number of BOR hearings this year, both commercial and residential.

“This year, we’ve been retaining auditor value on more properties — mostly residential so far — because it’s difficult to dispute that values haven’t increased, when using comparable sales, of comparable properties in comparable areas,” Nix said.

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.

“We have guarantees that back that up if something would happen to those valuations,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “It was all part of the original agreement. At the end of the day the dollar is still the same to the county, we’re still protected.”

The commissioners and township trustees met with the new owner Apollo Commercial Real Estate recently about restructuring the original development deal. Trustee Steve Schramm said they talked about many things.

“I think everything is on the table,” Schramm said. “Obviously we all know the retail sector has taken a kick in the drawers over the last couple years, and they just wanted to kick the tires on our thoughts about any other redevelopment ideas, rezoning, refinancing, it was really more of a fact finding mission for everybody.”

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