Friday, June 22, 2007

The truth about Bavarian Village

City was trying to do good deed


Rebekah Helzel is the founder of the Wood River Valley-based nonprofit group Advocates for Real Community Housing.


This is an eyewitness account to set the record straight.

On or around Sept. 10, 2005, an ex-neighbor of mine on Bird Drive in Ketchum called me. Three of the Bavarian Village condos were for sale by the U.S. government through the Department of Justice. Knowing that at most government auctions the assets sell at a price lower than value, we at Advocates for Real Community Housing identified this as a potential opportunity. We were also hopeful that the U.S. government would find the case for helping us with our local workforce housing crisis compelling.

The offices of Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson sprang into action, trying to help us. They had several conversations with the IRS and Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., trying to determine if they could help the city of Ketchum negotiate a direct transaction.

On Sept. 28, after nonstop efforts, Sen. Crapo's and Rep. Simpson's offices reported that though something like this had been done before in Nevada, in this case it was too late and the auction would proceed. While this transpired we called (Sun Valley Mayor) Jon Thorson, (Ketchum Mayor) Randy Hall, (City Councilman) Baird Gourlay, (City Councilman) Ron Parsons and Michael David at the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority. What can we do? All were knowledgeable on the economic effects of the devastating workforce housing crisis, so they sprang into action.

Jon spoke with Sun Valley Co., Randy called a meeting and the Ketchum City Council committed up to $800,000 of in-lieu fees to help with the purchase. The press covered it and soon the whole community was involved, from the Rev. Brian Baker, formerly of St. Thomas Church, the Ketchum police and fire chiefs, the county commissioners and many, many others.

Acutely aware that we would need more money, Randy, Jon, Michael and I put our heads together. Perhaps a partner? We called the Hanggis, who own three of the other Bavarian Village buildings. We met with them and asked them if they would be 50-50 partners with us (ARCH and BKHA). Present were Michael, Jon, Randy, the Hanggis, their partner and I.

The Hanggis informed us that they had no intention of bidding, as the government had done a lousy job of maintaining the property over the previous two years, rents had gone down and vacancies up. We told them about our sources of funding as a non-profit and tried to convince them that we could do something great for the community together.

On Monday, the day before the auction (the second meeting), the Hanggis informed us that they were not interested in partnering, greatly due to the lack of substantial existing financial assets of ARCH and lack of interest in dealing with the Department of Justice.

Those were the only two meetings held with anyone even resembling a potential bidder. No threats were made¾just four civic-minded people trying to find a way to help the community with its workforce housing issue. No other developers/bidders were contacted or met with. We were strictly looking for a partner.

The auction is a matter of record.

Following the failed auction, we attempted to negotiate with the U.S. Attorney General's office in Idaho. They repeatedly declined to work with us, even after we had a certified appraisal done that put the market price substantially below the Department of Justice's floor price. In February 2006 we gave up and wrote our final letter informing them of such.

From February 2006 onwards we waited anxiously for the date of the next auction. The Department of Justice refused to tell us when it would be and the summer came and went without another auction, much to our surprise. In the fall, as part of its overall master plan, the city put the district under moratorium to review the zoning. The Department of Justice had more than enough time to re-auction under the existing zoning and chose not to.

It is unfortunate that the Department of Justice has taken an adversarial role with the city and it is appalling that they have done so on "hearsay" rather than facts. I have never been interviewed or "deposed" as a participant. They have grossly misrepresented our efforts. Jon, Randy, Michael and I were only trying to do something good for the community.

All our written correspondence and the appraisal we had done are open and available to the public.

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