Town & County: The Grove is not for sale

JACKSON, Wyo. — Town and county elected officials this week brushed off an offer to buy a portion of a successful workforce housing project made by a private, profit-seeking entity even when there was never a “For Sale” sign stuck in the front lawn.

The idea to make the town and county an offer they couldn’t refuse on Phase 1 of the Grove was hatched after a conversation a few months ago between Housing Director April Norton and commercial real estate broker and owner of Contour Properties, Tim Bradley. The chat gave Bradley the idea that a $5M offer could go a long way toward building more affordable housing in Jackson while relieving the Housing Authority of the onerous task of maintaining the property.

Norton told electeds that while it’s true the learning curve for the Grove’s commercial aspect (ground floor office/retail space) was a bit steep, it is currently fairly easy to manage the property which brings in about $300,000 a year.

Before hearing from the interested buyer—Shaun Andrikopoulos dba Solitude Capital—councilman Jim Stanford wondered why the matter was even taking up agenda space.

“I don’t seem to recall ever ordering the Housing Authority or staff to put this property up for sale,” Stanford said at a joint information meeting (JIM) on Monday. “If someone were to come in to town hall and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to make an offer here on this nice piece of property,’ would we then schedule a meeting? At a certain point don’t we simply tell somebody, ‘Sorry, this is not for sale.’”

Norton explained that, unlike the old days before the Housing Authority was refashioned into more of a department of government, it now had to come before the town and county with basically every little detail in order to get authorization and direction.

The offer made by Andrikopoulos was $5M for the entire Phase 1 of the Grove. He said it is his intention to control his own destiny by owning rather than renting. He added that it was more about getting workforce housing out of the deal than expanding his Teton Sports & Spine Imaging, which is a commercial tenant in the ground floor of the Grove.

Norton said the Housing Authority still owes about $2.5M on the mortgage for the Grove. The loan balance is expected to be paid off in about 15 years. Per the real estate development agreement, all commercial leases will be market-rate by 2027.

The Housing Authority board recommended rejecting the purchase offer and any others they may come in the future. It was not alone in that sentiment.

During a public comment period at the JIM, St. John’s Medical Center CEO Paul Beaupre said he saw a much bigger issue than a real estate deal.

“Anytime an entity comes into the community with the intention of setting up entities that will diminish our ability to keep margins where they are so we can provide that sacred compact we have with this community it makes it more difficult for us to do our work,” Beaupre said. “We are very concerned we are facing an existential threat to the hospital with entities that are coming into the community trying to buy properties and setting up entities that they say are just competing with the hospital when in fact they are not. They do not compete with the hospital unless they’re open 24/7, accept all payers and provide the same scope of services we provide at the hospital.”

Others agreed, claiming Andrikopoulos’ imaging company “cherry-picked” clients with the best ability to pay and provided sub-standard health care in reading the images.

Speaking on his behalf, Andrikopoulos said he didn’t wish to get in the weeds arguing about anything other than the real estate merits of the deal.

“We’ve heard a lot of hyperbole about what’s going on with imaging in this town. I’m not here to talk about that,” he said. “We are interested in purchasing the Grove Phase 1 in its entirety for the purpose of owning the workforce housing for the long-term and the commercial properties.”

Andrikopoulos added that he has done a number of real estate projects in the valley and did not consider a purchase of the Grove to be a “one-off” for him.

How they voted

No one on the town or county appeared interested in entertaining any offer to purchase one of its housing developments. In fact, Mayor Pete Muldoon told staff to come up with a process of saying no if ever the red-hot real estate industry in Jackson Hole ever came knocking again.

“I do not support selling the Grove,” agreed councilman Arne Jorgensen. “The only reason to consider it is to access capital but there are other ways to do that. It’s not a question about who has made the offer or their potential uses. We can leverage capital by borrowing against it if we had the need.”

Commissioner Mark Newcomb said he respected where the offer may have come from, agreeing that the housing project had its tough times in the beginning, but things are different now.

Councilman Johnathon Schechter said, “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.”

Stanford dismissed the whole affair as a waste of time. “The property was never put up for sale. And town hall is not for sale either,” he said.

Unanimous votes from both town and county boards quashed the notion after a half-hour of meeting time.

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