By Jeanie Hankins
A local roping producer has stepped up to purchase the 77.5 acres west of Wickenburg known as the Forepaugh Property. On Monday evening, Town Council approved a contract allowing the sale to move forward and potentially resolving the tangled web surrounding the property.
The parties to the one-page contract are the Town of Wickenburg and West Wickenburg LLC (WW), a Montana-based company represented by Ty Yost, owner/operator of the Rancho Rio roping facility in Wickenburg. The contract states that WW has entered into a real estate contract with the owner of the property, Wickenburg Economic Development Partnership (WEDP), to purchase the property, and has deposited $100,000 earnest money in an escrow account with Pioneer Title Agency.
Upon execution of the contract with the Town, a $50,000 non-refundable deposit will be delivered to the Town of Wickenburg from that escrow account. Following the sale of the property:
• the town will release WEDP from contract agreements pertaining to the property;
• the Town will receive $218,280.22 (the remainder of the purchase price agreed upon between the Town and WEDP);
• the Town will also receive $25,000 for reimbursement of expenses it previously covered for well rehabilitation on the property;
• and up to $25,000 for legal fees incurred by the Town in relation to the property will be paid to the Town.
The contract further states, the Town agrees to support any changes required in county zoning in order for the property to be developed as residential, roping area, or for other agricultural or commercial uses; and the Town agrees to uphold agreements with the county.
The Forepaugh Property has been challenge, and at times a point of contention, between the Town and WEDP for several years.
In 2016, the Town and WEDP entered an agreement in which the Town conveyed the 77.5 acres of property 16 miles west of Wickenburg to WEDP for $10 with the understanding that it would be developed into an industrial facility to foster economic growth and bring jobs to the area. In 2017, WEDP requested a contract amendment, and the Town agreed, which required WEDP to pay fair market price for the property. WEDP was also required to open an escrow account with $50,000 to begin the transaction. The escrow account was not opened and the sale of the property did not take place by the deadline. Meanwhile, WEDP failed to pay property taxes for three years. To protect the property from other interests, the Town of Wickenburg earlier this year paid $59,769.77 for the overdue 2017 taxes. The taxes for 2018 and 2019 were also due. More recently, the Town of Wickenburg appealed to the county for a revised assessment, and a correction to the amount due for the taxes. The property was originally assessed at $6.8 million but upon review, the county reassessed it to $220,000. The county subsequently corrected the tax bill, and has since refunded the Town approximately $57,000 of the back taxes it had paid. In addition to the taxes, there were eight liens filed against the property. As of now, all but one lien has been lifted, and Town Manager Vince Lorefice and WEDP continue to work toward resolving the final lien (filed by former WEDP executive director Denise Steiger for $63,337.61), according to Economic Development Director Pamela Green.
Meanwhile, according to a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment performed by ATC Group Services LLC in February 2018, several environmental concerns are present on the property, however the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality through a grant, at no cost to the Town or WEDP, will determine the best practices for clean up of the areas of concern. Then, next year ADEQ plans to facilitate a clean up of the property which will also be funded through a grant, according to information previously provided to The Sun by Lorefice.
Green noted during Monday evening’s Council meeting that the purchase agreement between WEDP and WW is contingent upon ADEQ’s clean up activities which are expected to take between 12-18 months, depending on the scope of the work. Should the sale default, the Town can legally recoup the property by bringing the 2018-19 county taxes up to date, she said.
Council approved the agreement with WW by a 5-2 vote. Council members Chris Band and Kristy Bedoian voted against it. During discussion, Band said the current plan did not reflect his vision for the property. Bedoian questioned the portion of the contract which allowed for repayment of attorney’s fees.
Mayor Rui Pereira said he supports the purchase because while the property was originally marketed for industrial development and the creation of jobs, the lack of labor force and workforce housing in the area have deterred several potential developers. Following the meeting Pereira said, “This will be a win-win for our area. It will be good for all who are involved.”