The Payson Town Council has agreed to sell an acre with a convoluted history to the Rim Country Education Alliance (SLE) for construction of a university and its spin-offs.
The town council last Thursday agreed unanimously to sell the parcel to the alliance for the appraised $50,000, although the town paid about $128,000 for the parcel in 1999.
The one-acre parcel lies in the middle of a 55-acre piece of land fronting Highway 260 owned by Gila County, with the Gila Community College campus occupying about five acres at the western end of the wedge of that larger parcel.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said the town’s unused acre plus 22 acres owned by Gila County will provide a coherent block of land. On that land, the alliance will build the 1,000-student first phase of the university campus and a related block of businesses. That might include a proposed solar cell chip assembly plant envisioned as part of a job-generating research and industrial park.
Campus backers want to build classrooms and dorms on a nine-acre chunk of currently county-owned land.
However, the town parcel so fragmented the county-owned parcel that it would have only limited its use. But when combined with the 22-acre county parcel, it can provide room for support facilities next to phase one of the campus.
Therefore, the Alliance decided to use investor funds to buy both the roughly 22-acre county parcel and the one-acre town-owned parcel. The county has asked an appraiser to put a value on its land. Guesses have ranged from $75,000 to $25,000 per acre, with the continuing struggles of the real estate market — especially for empty land — complicating the effort to set a value.
The sale of the town-owned land completes a complicated cycle.
The Arizona Community College Board originally negotiated a deal to buy the full, 55-acre parcel from the U.S. Forest Service.
However, just as the board that governed community colleges statewide made ready to close the deal with the Forest Service, the state Legislature voted to dissolve the statewide board.
The Community College Board cast about hastily for a different agency to buy the land from the Forest Service, hoping to still save the land for a not-yet-built Gila Community College.
Gila County agreed to buy the land, which it would effectively hold in trust for the community college.
But then builders of the present community college campus found themselves $128,000 short of the money they needed to finish construction, said Evans.
As a result, the town agreed to buy the one-acre parcel for enough money to complete the GCC campus. The Forest Service sold the land on the condition it be used for a school or some other public purpose. So Payson designated the site for a possible fire station, to satisfy the Forest Service’s condition, said Evans.
Since then, Payson has built its third fire station on the opposite side of the highway off Tyler Parkway.
Evans said the sale price reflects current land prices and conceded that the nearly $70,000 “loss” on the property represents a subsidy of GCC by the town.
Gila County hopes to complete the sale of some 22 acres surrounding the town’s parcel by mid December. That land will include space for classrooms and dorms directly across the highway from where the Alliance hopes to build the rest of the campus once it acquires a 260-acre parcel from the U.S. Forest Service.
The sale will leave GCC with more than 30 acres to accommodate its future growth. It should provide the college with a cash infusion from the sale of the excess land, which includes a large, steeply sloping area between the existing campus and Tyler Parkway.
The county and the GCC board are currently negotiating about the terms of that sale. Several Gila County supervisors want to sell the 22 acres and turn the money over to the college. In addition, the county wants to turn over the remaining 35 acres to the college — together with the $300,000 annual bill for maintaining the buildings on the existing, five-acre campus.
However, GCC board members have asked for more time before assuming those extra costs, since a sharp drop in state support for community colleges has left GCC with a potentially serious budget deficit this year.