The Hull Group, the Augusta, Georgia-based real estate firm that bought the Charleston Town Center mall for $7.5 million in May, is contending that the property’s appraised value of $51 million is too high.
Hull Group representatives are expected to ask for a continuance on the matter during Thursday’s Kanawha County Commission meeting.
The difference in taxes owed would be dramatic. Using a $51 million appraisal, the taxable amount would be approximately $30 million. Applying the applicable tax rate would result in a bill of $986,000.
Hull has paid approximately half of that, $480,000, to appeal the decision.
Using an appraisal of $7.5 million — what Hull paid to buy the mall — that amount would drop to $144,000.
Hull already has appealed the appraisal to the Kanawha County Assessor’s Office, which denied it. Its next step is to either ask for a continuance on the entire matter, which it is expected to do Thursday, or to meet with the Assessor’s Office again, on Oct. 12.
The commission originally asked Hull and the Assessor’s Office to iron things out on that date. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, then commissioners will rule as the final county authority. If Hull is not satisfied with that outcome, it may appeal to the Kanawha County Circuit Court.
“The assessor is presumed to be correct, whatever the value of the place,” Commission President Kent Carper said. “If the assessor and the petitioner can’t agree, we have the final say at that point. I know they have been meeting with the Assessor’s Office and have retained counsel. That’s the way it’s done.”
Hull contends that the building is not worth more than it paid for it, despite a $61 million appraisal in 2020 and a $51 million appraisal in 2021. The mall covers 26 acres of downtown real estate and contains about 900,000 square feet.
Assessor’s Office Commercial Supervisor Steve Duffield said Hull must pay the bill, regardless of whether it eventually wins. In that event, Duffield cited West Virginia Code 11-3-23a, which says a successful devaluation “will result in a credit being established against taxes that become due for a tax year subsequent to the tax year in which the decision becomes final, except as otherwise stated in the decision or as otherwise provided in this article.”
The “otherwise stated” provision could refer to another option the Kanawha County sheriff would have, which would be to refund the money in its entirety.
“They’re disputing the assessment,” Duffield said. “Their position of value today, I don’t think I could actually tell you. They’re currently trying to understand the methodologies they have to follow, according to how these properties are valued.”
Duffield said Hull company head Jim Hull called him Monday to inquire about the way taxes are calculated here.
The commission traditionally sits as the Board of Equalization and Review during the month of February, to settle such matters. A relatively new state law adds another layer to the process. During October, the commission also sits as the Board of Assessment and Appeals.
Hull has asked for special tax designations associated with its malls in Rome and Macon, Georgia, and in Reading, Pennsylvania.
After demolishing a good portion of the Reading mall, Hull had backed off plans to redevelop it when it got into a scrap with Muhlenberg Township over taxes.
Hull wanted the town to implement a tax increment financing structure. A TIF allows all businesses in a certain district to spend development money, then have it reimbursed over time, provided the business has brought in more tax revenue than its original baseline. The money must be spent first, to qualify for the lessened burden over time.
Muhlenberg Township Commissioner Michael Malinowski did not initially favor the TIF, expressing his “extreme frustration” over the tax designation with Hull, which paid $1.2 million to purchase the 750,000-square-foot Fairgrounds Square Mall in 2016. The two sides eventually settled the tax issue, but no new development has taken place.
“The Hull Group just recently finished up the demolition of the existing mall area,” Malinowski wrote this summer in an email to the Gazette-Mail, “to several free-standing stores separated by green space that can be eventually developed ... . Hull wanted us to provide a TIF and our Board of Commissioners denied that request. The property is on our major retail corridor, so we did not believe it would be fair to other businesses.
“The property definitely looks improved; however, they have not brought any new retail yet on to the property. They will have our full cooperation if they are able to bring in some other businesses.”
Nearly all Hull malls boast small tenant bases. None are located in large metropolitan areas.