WVU gets OK for Sunnyside land money
The West Virginia University Board of Governors approved up to $15 million for the purchase of land in the Sunnyside neighborhood Tuesday as part of a plan to create more student housing and amenities close to the downtown campus.
The appraised value of that property amounts to less than $4.5 million, according to Monongalia County tax records for 2012.
University officials had filed a document with a legislative committee late last month showing details of an agreement with two private holding companies to purchase 39 parcels of land for more than $14.5 million.
Some parcels include multiple addresses, and the Daily Mail was able to obtain tax information for 44 of the 45 pieces of property listed in the report.
County tax records show the assessed value of each property. The assessed value of a property is 60 percent of the appraised value, a tax official said.
The board voted on the resolution in a special meeting and immediately adjourned. The vote followed a closed session, and the resolution says money for the purchase will come from the issuance of up to $15 million in revenue bonds. It does not say what revenue will be used to repay the bond debt.
Last month WVU acquired more than 25 acres, including rental properties, three other lots and an unoccupied apartment building, for about $10 million. Last year, WVU bought the Augusta apartment complex property out of bankruptcy for $13.1 million.
The university hopes to increase its student beds from 6,000 to 7,600 over the next several years.
Although Tuesday's resolution does not specifically mention the location of the latest group of properties to be purchased, university spokeswoman Becky Lofstead said it is related to the Sunnyside property referenced in the document.
Lofstead was not sure how the board reached the $15 million figure but said she assumed university officials deemed it appropriate after speaking with developers.
She did not comment when asked about the appraised value of the property, saying officials could discuss aspects of the purchase and plan for the land in the days or weeks ahead.
Jim Hunt, former executive director of Sunnyside Up, a partnership between the university and city to revitalize the area, said Tuesday there have been questions about property assessments in the past.
He said although none of the structures themselves were all that valuable, the land itself is increasingly coveted the closer it lies to campus.
Hunt said recent housing developments - including those previously purchased or built by WVU - increased the population density of the area. Right now, because of a shortage of housing near campus, students have been forced to reside in developments miles out of town. Then they have to take a bus or drive to campus.
"Living eight miles out of town and driving in on a bus is not the college experience to me," Hunt said.
WVU's purchase price could indicate the scope of its plans, he said.
"I'd say the development will be upwards of $100 million," Hunt said. "I just don't think there's any question."
New housing means less blight and mayhem in the area, Hunt said. Sunnyside is notorious for raucous student parties, some of which have led to fires.
While some Sunnyside landlords have fixed up properties, Hunt said there was a "myth" that others weren't doing so on the chance that WVU would step in if things got bad enough.
"I don't have a good argument today that that's not what happened," he said.
He's confident new student housing will help improve the look of the area and cut down on behavior problems, and he credits the developers for getting the right land parcels to make that happen.
"When they start to develop, it will eliminate a lot of the substandard properties that are right around there, and that should eliminate a lot of the destructiveness," Hunt said.
The document submitted to the Legislature in September states the university wants the housing and related projects completed by developers and ready for students by the fall 2014 semester.
The developers will participate in the management of student housing facilities and "various enterprises," the document states. Those could include a Laundromat, coffee shops or grocery store on the property, according to a different part of the document.
The developers listed in the document are Paradigm Development Group LLC and RCL Holdings LLC. Ryan Lynch organized both holding companies in 2012, according to documents filed with the secretary of state. Lynch is also the organizer of RCL Evansdale Holdings - created in March - and WV Campus Housing - created in July.
Messages left for Lynch were not returned.
James E. Brown Sr. and David R. Martinelli are listed as members of several of the holding companies. The Associated Press reported Tuesday Martinelli is a professor who teaches civil and environmental engineering at WVU. Martinelli did not return a message Monday.
Brown is the owner of G.A. Brown & Son, Inc., a Fairmont-based construction company. Since 1990, the company has received more than $62 million to work on at least seven different projects at WVU, according to the company's website. Those include the construction of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center in 1990 and 2006 renovations of the Coliseum.
Attorney Brian Helmick called the Daily Mail Monday after a message was left for Brown. Helmick said he could not comment on the project. Brown did not return a message left Tuesday.
The agreement submitted by WVU says the developers have entered agreements to buy the properties from current owners. As of late Tuesday, the developers did not officially own any of the property, according to tax records.
Several different entities own the properties.
The developer with the most properties is James Dow Jones, listed in secretary of state documents as the organizer of six different holding companies. Those include Sunnyside: Taxation Without Representation LLC, Sunnyside Billionaire Club LLC and Building Permits Suck LLC.
The document submitted by WVU states the sale could officially close Thursday, as long as all necessary approval for the purchase is received.
Staff writer Ry Rivard contributed to this report.