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Wednesday, June 9, 2004


Land swap hit with a twist

Ketchum to consider buying Wells Fargo parcel

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum city officials will investigate whether they can purchase a prized piece of vacant land near City Hall instead of acquiring it through a trade for a city-owned land parcel on Main Street.

The plan to investigate the option of purchasing two small, contiguous lots at the corner of Fourth Street and East Avenue came up during a special public hearing Monday, June 7, before the Ketchum City Council.

The hearing was scheduled to discuss a proposed deal to trade the city’s Town Square parcel at Fourth and Main streets for a privately owned parcel directly south of the Giacobbi Square shopping center.

Barry Luboviski, attorney for Wells Fargo Bank, said Monday that the bank had planned to build a new branch office at the corner of East Avenue and Fourth Street but is now willing to sell or trade the parcel. Ketchum City Engineer Dick Fosbury, center, is seated next to Luboviski. Express photos by Willy Cook

Wells Fargo Bank owns the private parcel. The city parcel is the site of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau visitor center.

Among numerous statements made by members of the public Monday was one from former Ketchum Mayor Jerry Seiffert, who urged the council to consider purchasing the Wells Fargo parcel as part of a city-driven local-improvement-district initiative.

Seiffert suggested that the city establish a LID that could include purchasing and improving the high-profile parcel, installing lighting on public thoroughfares in the downtown core and developing much-needed sidewalks in the inner city.

"You don’t actually have to spend that much money," Seiffert said.

In Idaho, cities are given the power to form LIDs in order to construct and finance an infrastructure project that benefits a specific area. The cost of the project is typically paid by special assessments on the various properties that are benefited.

City Council President Randy Hall, conducting the meeting Monday in Mayor Ed Simon’s absence, instructed City Administrator Ron LeBlanc to research the logistics and costs of pursuing an LID to acquire the Wells Fargo land.

The council made no other decisions Monday regarding the proposal to exchange the Town Square property for the Wells Fargo parcel.

The land swap proposal was made public by the city in May. Specifically, it proposes to trade two commercial-zoned properties that each comprises approximately 11,000 square feet of land area.

The city parcel at 411 N. Main St. has been valued at $1,232,000, while the Wells Fargo parcel has been appraised at $1,353,000.

As drafted, the deal would include a direct swap of the parcels plus a city payment of $148,000 to Wells Fargo. The payment would include the $121,000 difference in the appraised values of the two parcels, plus an extra $27,000 to ensure Wells Fargo receives the same amount it originally paid for its Fourth Street parcel.

Mayor Simon has said the city would like to use the Wells Fargo parcel—which is currently leased by the bank to the operators of Giacobbi Square for parking—as a site for a new underground parking garage and public park.

As a part of the deal, the Chamber visitor center on Main Street would have to be demolished and relocated. The Chamber currently leases the Town Square site from the city for a nominal amount.

Former Ketchum Mayor Jerry Seiffert tells the Ketchum City Council that the city should seek to purchase a valuable downtown land parcel owned by Wells Fargo Bank. Express photos by Willy Cook

During the hearing Monday, Carol Waller, executive director of the Chamber, asked the council for direction in her pursuit of a new location for a Chamber visitor center.

Waller said it could cost several hundred thousand dollars to build a new visitor center on the Wells Fargo parcel.

The city has already invested an estimated $300,000 in the potentially doomed visitor center at Fourth and Main streets.

Barry Luboviski, a Ketchum attorney representing Wells Fargo, said the California-based corporation is willing to trade, sell or keep its downtown property, in part because it wants to be "a good corporate citizen."

Wells Fargo currently operates a branch office at 600 Sun Valley Rd. in central Ketchum. The bank earlier this year issued plans to the city to build a new bank on its East Avenue property but was promptly asked by city officials to enter into negotiations to trade the site.

The City Council ultimately agreed to resume a discussion of the matter on June 21. The council also will discuss options for relocating the Chamber visitor center.


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