Orange struggles to sell buildings

Staff WriterJuly 19, 2010 

— Orange County has found selling its surplus real estate a slow process. Out of five properties that opened for bidding in May, the county has received bids for one.

That property, at 118 N. Churton St. in Hillsborough, has gone through one round of bidding and one round of upset bids; the second round of upset bids is set to close Wednesday.

No bids have been received for the other four properties, which include the old county Purchasing Office at 129 E. King St. and the old Clerk of Court Annex at 112 N. Churton St. in Hillsborough. One property in Chapel Hill, the old Emergency Services building at 1914 New Hope Church Road, and one in Mebane, the old ABC store on N.C. 49, are also for sale.

Much of the excess space came as a result of office and department relocations to spaces in the expanded courthouse and the new West Campus office building on West Margaret Lane in Hillsborough.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners has set the minimum bids for the properties, which go up to $590,000. The county hired an independent appraiser to determine the initial value of the properties. The most expensive properties are in downtown Hillsborough.

A complex process

Commissioners stopped the bidding on both Churton Street properties earlier this year to place preservation agreements on them. Buyers of those properties will have to adhere to historical preservation standards, which "could or could not make buildings more expensive to remodel," said County Manager Frank Clifton.

The preservation requirements for some buildings and the complicated process of buying government property could be discouraging buyers. Owners of such historical buildings, however, may qualify for federal and state tax credits on rehabilitation costs up to $20,000, according to Preservation North Carolina.

"We're kind of restricted in how we go about selling property. It has to be either an upset bid or an auction sale," Clifton said.

An upset bid can occur once an initial bid is submitted and approved by the Board of Commissioners. After a new minimum price is set, the county advertises the property, and prospective buyers have 10 days to enter a higher bid. Clifton said that the county may choose to do an auction sale in the future but that for now, the properties will remain open for bids.

"It's not like we have to sell them right away," he said.

The Board of Commissioners began putting the buildings on the market last year.

Selling county property is "not an easy process to get through," said Pam Jones, director of county purchasing and central services. "It takes more than posting a sign on the front yard."

One down

In January, the county sold one property in Chapel Hill that is now home to the Homestead Community Center, 300 Northern Park Drive, off Homestead Road. Funds from the property sales are being reserved for library expansion and improvements for older schools in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district.

kferral@nando.com or 919-932-8746

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