Before anyone else had a chance to bid, Libra Group plumped down its own wad of cash for the Bennett Building on Wednesday.
Now the building, scheduled for sale Thursday by Salt Lake County, is off the market.That doesn't mean Libra principal Paul Jensen was happy to pay the $198,427.61 due on the more than 50-year-old former paint and glass factory. The building, now half-demolished by Libra, had nine years' worth of property taxes - plus fees - due.
"We tried to reason with the county regarding the overassesed years (1987 to 1991), but they were nonresponsive. We attempted every other avenue we could think of with the county, also unsuccessfully," Jensen said.
"We paid the taxes today. It was a painful thing to do because we feel it's unjust."
Libra has owned the deed to the 2100 S. 300 West property since 1992. Property taxes, however, were being billed to the Bennett family, who maintain they owned the longtime eyesore in name only after their business went bankrupt. Zions Bank actually owned title to the 10-story building and 9.48-acre site.
Richard Winters, the Bennett family representative, said he had participated in a number of appeals with Jensen and Libra on the accrued taxes.
"Property taxes are supposed to be based on market value. The question is what is the market value of a piece of property that has an environmental cloud hanging over it," Winters said.
Winters maintained that the Bennett family wasn't in a position to pay the taxes, which dipped to $1,800 in 1992, from a 1987 high of $20,000, he said. Zions Bank refused to pay the property taxes or foreclose on the property because it didn't want to be "in the chain of title," Winters said.
If a third party had paid the taxes and fines due on the property at the sale, Libra would likely have lost ownership by foreclosure.
"The property has been redeemed. We've paid them reluctantly," Jensen said Wednesday. "Right now we're trying to figure out how to continue with the demolition. We're trying to be positive about that, but we still don't have a loan."
As the title interest, Libra now stands a much better chance of securing redevelopment agency financing and sales tax incremental funds from South Salt Lake. First and foremost for Libra, though, is maintaining interest among a half-dozen or so potential retailers at the proposed Interstate 2100 Center.
Libra's title ownership should finally be recorded in county records in a week or so, Jensen said.
According to Mike Reed, director of auditing in the county's tax division, 336 properties were listed for sale Thursday morning.