Apache Junction State Land up For Auction; But Most Can't Bid
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- More than four square miles of state land in Apache Junction being auctioned off this coming month for what might seem like bargain-basement prices.
But odds are you won't be to bid on it even if they have the $68 million minimum bid price -- or at least the 10% down with 25 years to pay it off.
In what appears to be the first-of-a-kind auction, the Arizona Land Department will be taking bids only from those with unrestricted cash or equivalents of at least $40 million, have a net worth of not less than $400 million, and have "relevant experience'' in developing a planned community of at least 1,000 acres and at least 2,000 residential units.
But top officials at the Arizona Land Department say the minimum bid price in the range of $25,000 an acre is not giving anything away. Nor they say is it aimed at giving Brookfield Residential, the developer who made the request for the auction for the 2,783 acre parcel just inside Pinal County and adjacent to existing development, a leg up over others.
Instead, state Land Commissioner Lisa Atkins argues this unique arrangement is designed to maximize the revenue for the state, at least over the long haul, even if the up-front price tag is less than $25,000 an acre.
Some of it, Atkins told Capitol Media Services, is ensuring that whoever makes the successful bid actually can complete the project. She said there has been a history of buyers acquiring state land but then defaulting when the plans fall through.
But Wesley Mehl, the agency's special projects coordinator, said it's even more complex than that.
He said the deal requires whoever is the successful bidder to install all the infrastructure improvements -- water, utilities and roads -- not just on the parcel bought but on the entire 8,200 acres the state owns at the site. That, in turn, will make those adjacent properties more valuable when the state puts that up for sale, perhaps in the neighborhood of $250,000 an acre.
Mehl balked at describing the deal as a loss leader.
"It's not a loss,'' he said.
"We will make substantial revenue in this deal directly,'' Mehl said of the $68 million minimum bid. "But then we will make better revenue on the adjacent land because of this deal.''
Jim Perry, the deputy state land commissioner, called it "an accounting thing.''
He said if those other parcels sell for $250,000 an acre, some of that likely should be attributed to this deal which installed all that infrastructure making the adjacent land more valuable.
The deal contains a kind of profit-sharing arrangement: When the developer sells off parcels to individual builders, the state gets 50 percent of the profits.
All totaled, Mehl said, the state could end up reaping about $150,000 an acre "depending on market conditions.'' And that, he said, doesn't count the increased value of the remaining state land.
And Perry said even the financing works to the state's benefit, with the developer given 25 years to pay off the balance -- at 7 percent interest.
What the agency is hoping for is a planned community like DC Ranch in Scottsdale or, closer to home, the Eastmark development which Brookfield has put together west of the land involved here.
Mehl said the parcel might have been worth more had Mesa, along the western border on Meridian Road, agreed to annex it.
There already is a development on that side of the street. And that would have ensured there were services available.
But Mesa, he said, showed no interest. So that left the state coming up with a plan to have all of the land -- what's being sold and what's being held back -- annexed into Apache Junction.
Mehl said that $68 million appraisal, which is the minimum bid price, reflects all the conditions that the ultimate buyer has to fulfill, including the infrastructure to the adjacent state land.
While Brookfield is the entity that requested the land be put up for auction, Perry said that does not guarantee that the company will get it -- or that it will go for the minimum.
"We have another master planned community developer who's displayed significant interest,'' he said. "We believe they may bid.''
Two others, Perry said, also have displayed what he called significant interest.
"And there may be others,'' he said.
All this comes amid concerns of the lack of affordable housing, particularly for first-time homebuyers. But Atkins said that is not a concern of her agency in auctioning off this parcel and the conditions attached to it. In fact, she said, it legally cannot be taken into consideration.
"Our responsibility is best and highest use of the portfolio assets, whether it's land, water, minerals, whatever it is,'' she said. Atkins said all that is left to the market.
But there is at least an indirect role for the agency which control 9.2 million acres. And that, said Mehl, requires the department to serve demand where it exists.
"Given the amount of land that the Land Department owns, you could influence prices if you fail to sell enough land, or if you sell too much land,'' he said. "We're trying to hit the right velocity and sell when there is quality demand for a parcel.''