Mobile County Commissioners and their attorney haven’t had much to say about the group of owners selling a $3.1 million piece of property as part of the plan for a $40 million public soccer and aquatic complex at the Interstate 65 corridor.
Even though the purchase of two swaths of land could be finalized by the end of May, exactly who owns which parcels in the 200-acre land deal remains unclear.Last week, Lagniappe detailed some of the sellers involved in the two purchasing agreements the county approved in 2014. One is with Mary Lou Berg, of Texas, who is asking $761,000 for 37 acres of property.
The other is with “The Ansley Group” — a 12-member collective selling 75 acres of land for $2.2 million. The sellers listed in that group include several individuals and limited liability companies with ties to White-Spunner Realty Inc., the corporation brokering the deal.
White-Spunner Realty LLC’s founder, CEO and/or companies they operate are listed as “sellers” in the agreement, Mobile County property records list the parcels’ owner as Ansley Properties LLC.
For the past week, Lagniappe has attempted to clarify exactly which sellers stand to benefit from which parts of the 200-acre sale, respectively, but so far phone calls to the county’s attorney Jay Ross have gone unreturned.
WSR’s current president Matt White, who stands to pick up $140,040 in brokerage fees from the deal, responded but declined an opportunity to comment for this story.
The county also prevented Lagniappe from speaking to appraiser David Bell, whose company, M.D. Bell Co. Inc., appraised the property in March of 2014.
While the purchasing agreements discuss roughly 200 acres of land, only 111.5 acres were appraised and included in the combined purchase agreements. Both Berg and the Ansley Group are donating a combined 80 acres of wetlands at no cost, though they will net a tax writeoff.
While the Mobile Revenue Commissioner’s office appraised the same properties at a combined $883,000 in 2014, the final market value came out at $2.9 million. According to Bell’s appraisal, his figure was based on 12 months of “estimated exposure time” on the real estate market and comparisons to recent sales of large properties in and around Mobile.
Comparing tracts of land in Saraland, Mobile and Theodore, Bell’s appraisal analyzed several factors from three separate sales and applied them to the five parcels of interest to the county.
The first of those was a $4.7 million agreement Mobile Industrial Properties LLC made to purchase a 158-acre parcel fronting I-65 in Theodore. The second was the $1,282,000 the Saraland Board of Education paid for the 80 acres where Saraland High School currently sits.
The final comparable land sale looked at the $1.3 million TSS LLC paid for 46 acres of property visible from I-10 near Halls Mill Road. All of those properties were light industrial sites, all of the sales took place in 2007 and, like the county’s intended property, are visible from an interstate but do not have direct access from the interstate. Lagniappe was unable to independently verify two of the three comparable land sales in time for this report.
In his work, Bell concluded that “the market conditions as of the date of this appraisal are considered to be similar to the market conditions when the comparables sold” in 2007, citing information obtained from the University of South Alabama Real Estate Center.
Lagniappe reached out to the center’s director, Dr. Reid Cummings, but so far has not received comment on any changes Mobile’s commercial real estate market might have seen over that period of time. A similar request to Alabama Real Estate Commission went unanswered.
Ranging from $16,025 to $30,000 per acre, the average price of all three properties is a little less than $26,000 per acre, which is in line with the average of $25,000 per acre the county agreed to in its purchasing agreements with Berg and Ansley.
In the appraisal, Bell writes Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice require an appraiser to “consider and analyze any prior sales of the property being appraised that occurred within the three years preceding” the appraisal.
He then goes on to write, “there have been no sales transactions” in regard to either property in the three years preceding 2014.
According to Mobile County Probate records, the last recorded sale of the Ansley Group’s properties was in 2003, when Giddens Properties LLC sold the property, splitting it between Ansley Properties LLC, G&G LLC and Giddens Glenday LLC for a price listed as $111,000.
Once Bell’s appraisal was complete, the County Commission entered into an agreement with all sellers last May at his appraised values. However, the commission amended those agreements two months later after “all of the prospective owners would not unanimously consent to buying the property back” if the county were to fail in developing the soccer facility within five years of closing the sale.
The second agreements gave county officials the option to extend the purchasing agreement, which they’ve done three times, and also allows the property owners the “option to buy the property back at fair market value,” while not requiring them to do so.
The second agreements also allow the current owners to retain rights to oil and gas leases on the property and the right to select and cut timber, subject to the county’s building plans in the 120 days following the close of sale.
Lagniappe contacted Bell in hopes of better understanding the history of the properties he appraised for the county. Bell said he’d be “glad to talk,” after checking with the county. The county, however, was not so keen on Bell discussing the properties with the press or anyone else.
In an email to Bell, Ross said, “I don’t think you need to discuss this with anyone.” When Ross posed the same question to Mobile County Public Affairs Director Nancy Johnson, she responded simply, “No … It’s our business and they are limited to our lawyer.”