County sells some tax-deeded AquaPlex land
Land from the failed Central Wisconsin AquaPlex may finally be developed, more than 12 years since the idea of a water-ski complex southeast of Plover was first proposed.
The Portage County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Jan. 19, approved the sale of 36.5 acres of the approximately 420 acres the county owns to Bill Bayba and Joe Stuczynski for $348,933.17, plus a $290,000 payment to the village of Plover for outstanding special assessments. The vote was 23 supervisors in favor and two excused from the meeting.
The county acquired the deeds to the property through non-payment of property taxes in 2013 and tried to sell it by auction but all the offers were below the tax-delinquent price the county had to pay to cover the back taxes because those taxes included special assessments.
The county subsequently passed a resolution, limiting the county liability in acquiring tax delinquent properties to back taxes only and requiring the municipalities to cover the special assessment costs until the property was sold to another party.
“This is the first legitimate offer that has come forward,” said Dan Mahoney, Plover village administrator. “The village is interested in getting the land back on the tax roll,” he said, adding that the property could have an assessed valuation of $50 million with the development of 60 single-family homes valued at $250,000 each.
Jennifer Jossie, Portage County finance director, said the county was forced to purchase the land once the property went tax delinquent. “No one was interested in it, and then this offer approached us.”
She said the purchase price takes into account the amount the county had to pay, and that amounted to $350,882.81, so the offer is $2,000 shy of that but the county wanted to get some development started there.
She said the purchase price is $9,145 per acre, plus Bayba and Stuczynski will pay $290,000 in special assessments to the village of Plover.
Jossie also said the county will incur some closing costs, as the buyer usually does in land transactions, but she is unsure what they will be.
Supervisor Jeff Presley, District 5, asked if the county has had conversations with Plover to cover 50 percent of the closing costs, taking the burden off county taxpayers for the property, but Jossie said she was unaware if there had been. The county primarily wanted to sell the property to hopefully trigger future development, she said.
The special assessments cover the development of County Road R to improve access to the site, plus the installation of sewer and water line to the property. Future special assessment costs will be incurred to run sewer and water lines to the individual lots within the property.
Jossie said the county paid $3,632,050.83 on Dec. 31, 2014, to cover back taxes of increased valuation due to the special assessment and special charges to take ownership of the tax-delinquent property, as required by state statutes.
“We’ve never had something like this,” she said, adding that mostly the county takes homes or undeveloped land.
“This probably has been dead for 10 years,” she said about interest in the property. “Without offers in 10 years, I would suggest pass this and get something going.”
The AquaPlex proposal began with great fanfare in 2003, and the Portage County Business Council received a $98,600 federal grant to provide technical assistance to determine the feasibility of a proposed AquaPlex for land that was then located in the town of Plover.
The development was initially estimated at $25 to $50 million and was to include man-made lakes for boating and water skiing competition in summer and activities for snow in winter. The development was also proposed to include an indoor water park, a hotel of about 300 rooms, plus about 70 condominiums and 90 housing units on the property.
The village of Plover annexed the property, which included the then-27-hole Tree Acres Golf Course between Highway 54 and County Trunk B, and received approval from the Stevens Point Urban Area Sewer Service Advisory Committee to expand Plover’s sewer service area to include approximately 605 acres for the proposed aquaplex development.
The project also went through some name changes, from the AquaPlex to Glacier Edge Recreation/Residential Complex to Centre Lakes, and increases in the projected amount of development to $100 million and higher.
As H2O Development of Plover began preliminary work on the property, such as dismantling the golf course, questions because to arise.
The Rettler Corp. of Stevens Point created a master plan in 2003 for the development that included three lakes on 72 acres; bridges; boat docks; piers; grandstands; a visitors’ center; skiers’ pavilion; parking lots; a four-story 350-room hotel; a connected 63,000-square-foot convention center and a 50,000-square-foot indoor water park/aquatic center.
However, Rettler was never paid the $39,000 owed and it won a judgment for payment in Portage County Circuit Court against H2O Development Co. LLC and its principals, Scott Neale and Tom Gleisner.
Later in 2005, Kennedy Funding, a direct private lender based in Hackensack, N.J., made a loan of $2.7 million to H2O Development for the aquaplex project.
Lack of construction progress on the project caused water ski officials to cancel the scheduled August 2006 World University Water Ski Championships that were to be held at Centre Lakes, and then construction basically came to a halt, except for road work that changed Eisenhower Road through the area into County Road R, plus the installation of the water and sewer lines.
As the properties accrued tax liabilities, Portage County began action in 2012 to take title to the property through a tax deed sale.
However, the tax deed process was complicated when Plover Development, the parent company of H2O Development, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in New Jersey.
The county hired the law firm from Garden City, N.Y., to challenge the bankruptcy, and that challenge finally led to a dismissal of the bankruptcy, allowing the county to take control of the land.