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Utah officials: $7.7 million assessed value of Road Home property likely too high

State officials still hope to buy shelter for $4 million, expect appraisal to show lower value

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County recently assessed the Road Home's downtown homeless shelter property at nearly $7.7 million — but state officials, who hope to buy the property for just over half of that, doubt it's worth that much.

"Whoever buys that property is going to tear that building down anyway," Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said.

Calling Salt Lake County's 2018 assessed value a "misnomer" and perhaps a "miscalculation" on KSL Newsradio's "Dave and Dujanovic" show on Thursday morning, Cox said he expects an appraisal currently underway of the downtown shelter will result in a market value much lower than the county's assessed value.

"We're not here to dispute the county assessor," Cox added, noting that the assessor's work is done for "tax purposes, not for sale purposes."

This week, the State Homeless Coordinating Committee voted to set aside $4 million to put an offer on the property, looking to help with the "transition," as Cox put it, of when the downtown shelter closes and three new homeless resource centers open in June 2019.

After the move, Cox said, the state could use the property for a new facility to store and display historic artifacts currently housed in a "dungeon-like basement."

Cox, who is chairman of the state committee and also a member of the board for Shelter the Homeless, the nonprofit that owns the Road Home's downtown shelter, said the group would use the profits from the sale of the building to finance the construction of the three homeless resource centers.

Last year, the land and building at 210 S. Rio Grande St. was valued at about $3.2 million, according to the Salt Lake County Assessor's Office. But this year, after assessors re-evaluated the property's value (as they do every five years), the assessed value jumped to nearly $7.7 million — more than double.

The bulk of that increase came from a new value for the shelter building, which assessors hiked from nearly $2.1 million in 2017 to about $6.5 million this year. The land value also went up, but only from $1.1 million to $1.2 million.

Cox said the 2017 value is "much closer" to what state officials think the property should be worth, so "we're anxious to see" what Shelter the Homeless' appraisal determines as fair-market value.

Salt Lake County Assessor Kevin Jacobs said Thursday his office is "standing by our assessed value," explaining that assessors determined during their five-year review of the property that compared to other buildings nearby, the price-per-square-foot for the shelter was low.

Assessors used the nearby St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall and the Weigand Homeless Resource Center, both owned by Catholic Community Services, as comparables, Jacobs said. Both facilities are classified as "group care homes" according to the assessor's office.

Jacobs acknowledged the Road Home's shelter is a "unique property, so it's hard to come up with comparables that work."

"We felt the best comparables were group homes and not necessarily a warehouse," Jacobs said.

Additionally, Jacobs said the downtown area's market has become increasingly hot, which contributed to the land's slight increase.

Cox emphasized state official are more interested in obtaining the building to assist with the transition of homeless clients out of the building, rather than for the downtown market.

"We're much less interested in the prime piece of real estate and much more interested in how we can help these individuals transition," Cox said.

The Road Home moved into the downtown building in 1988, after it was retrofitted as a homeless shelter. Today, any buyer would likely demolish the aging building, Cox said.

Preston Cochrane, executive director of Shelter the Homeless, said the appraisal is expected to be completed in six to eight weeks.

Whatever price the downtown shelter property is sold for depends on Shelter the Homeless' board, Cochrane said.

"This is a topic of discussion for our next board meeting, so I don't have an answer on that," he said.

However, Cochrane noted that selling price may not be the only factor that determines who to sell the property to.

"We want to make sure it's in the long-term interest for the neighboring landowners, too, so whatever the property is going to be used for, I know our board would be more concerned about that then the actual sale price," Cochrane said.

Cox also hinted Shelter the Homeless board members may not be opposed to selling the land for less than assessed value.

"Shelter the Homeless is not in this to make money, and the state's not in this to make money," Cox said. "We're in this to provide what is best for the taxpayer."