Records dating back to the 1960s detail how some of the area’s most prominent families came to acquire parcels of land near Interstate 65 slated to house Mobile County’s $40 million soccer and aquatic complex.
Last week, in response to questions about why a purchasing agreement the county approved in 2014 included several individuals and companies with ties to White-Spunner Realty Inc., the broker of the land transaction, a Mobile County spokesperson said the individual sellers and history of the properties was not something the county was concerned with.
Though there are seven parcels involved in the sale, only five were evaluated in the county’s 2014 appraisal by M.D. Bell and Associates, which put a $2.9 million value on the properties owned by the “White-Spunner Group” and Texas resident Mary Lou Berg.
In all, Berg’s 38-acre property was valued at $761,000, or $20,000 per acre. The Ansley Group’s 73.5-acre property was valued at $2.2 million. According to the appraisal, those parcels were valued at $30,000 per acre because their “frontage on the interstate highway is more desirable” than Berg’s.
According to property records obtained by Lagniappe, at least two of the three parcels controlled by the “Ansley Group” were obtained through a public auction in Mobile nearly 50 years ago.
Altogether, those properties and four others on the opposite side of Interstate 10 sold for $628,000 on March 10, 1966. The parcels relevant to the county’s soccer purchase were split between Kenneth R. Giddens, William M. Lyon, Blacksher White-Spunner, Marl M. Cummings Jr., Vivian G. Johnston Jr. and C.B. Arendall Jr.
Giddens and Lyon were business partners at the time, and took the largest interests in the properties at 40 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The other four split the remaining 40 percent.
Lyon would go on to partner with White-Spunner and Cummings in real estate development ventures while Giddens continued to operate WKRG-AM, FM and WKRG-TV in Mobile, all of which have since been sold.
The majority sellers in the current agreement with the county are the heirs of those Mobile businessmen, including the four daughters of C.B. Arendall Jr., co-founder of the Hand Arendall law firm.
The Mobile County Revenue Commission lists the owner of all the parcels as Ansley Properties, which named its incorporator as Giddens’ daughter, Ansley Giddens Green. In 2003, Ansley Properties assumed the ownership of several properties previously held by Giddens Properties LLC including the 40 percent interest in two of the parcels slated to house the soccer complex.
Giddens Glenday LLC, incorporated by Kay Giddens Glenday of Manhattan, also holds a stake in the property. Based on the agreement with the Mobile County Commission, the only original owners no longer involved in the sale are Cummings and Lyon, though Lagniappe was unable to locate documents showing who obtained their stakes.
While some of the heirs may own as little as 2 percent of the property, that could translate to $55,000 if the property sells for the agreed price of $2.2 million. Regardless of what they may stand to gain, campaign filings show that at least two of the landowners have made contributions to a majority of the Mobile County Commission within the last year.
White-Spunner Realty CEO John White-Spunner reported giving both Commission President Jerry Carl and District 2 Commissioner Connie Hudson $2,000 apiece in 2015 during the height of the GOP primary election.
While Hudson was facing no opposition at the time, she will face Democratic challenger Lula Albert-Kaigler in the general election in November. Carl, however, was in the middle of a heated race with House Rep. Margie Wilcox at the time. According to state records, no companies or individuals with ties to the White-Spunner family contributed to the Wilcox campaign.
In September, Blacksher White-Spunner made a $5,000 donation to Carl’s campaign. A month later, White-Spunner Realty employee J. Benson O’Connor III formed the COMPAC political action committee. Shortly afterward Blacksher White-Spunner donated $10,000 to the PAC, which gave $5,000 to Hudson’s campaign. COMPAC’s only other donation was $250 to Carl.
While Hudson has pushed for the soccer complex, Carl has been vocally opposed to both the location and the cost of the planned facility. With deadlock between them, every motion to move the complex forward has left District 2 Commissioner Merceria Ludgood as the deciding vote.
Unlike her counterparts, Ludgood received no donations from White-Spunner family members, employees or their respective PACs in 2015, though she wasn’t facing an election at the time.
Lagniappe has previously reached out to the Alabama Ethics Commission for clarification on campaign contributions, but was told the commission could “only give an opinion to the person wanting to make the donation or the person receiving it.”
However, under Alabama ethics law, any campaign contribution to a public official is not considered a thing of value “if the contribution is actually used for political purposes and is not given under circumstances from which it could reasonably be inferred that the purpose of the contribution is to substantially influence a public official.”
Mobile County Attorney Jay Ross has previously told Lagniappe the county was in the process of making preparations to exercise its purchasing options on the properties at the commission’s May 23 meeting.