In the Classroom

Boise developer sees worth in CWI land purchase

A longtime Boise developer with ties to the College of Western Idaho says concerns about assessed and appraised value of property the school wants to buy for a campus west of Downtown Boise are overblown.

CWI announced in late April it intended to buy the former Bob Rice Ford dealership property at Main Street and Whitewater Park Boulevard for $8.8 million. Later, the board of trustees acknowledged it had not looked at the assessed value from the Ada County tax assessor, which showed the value at $3.6 million. Nor did trustees order an appraisal of the property.

Critics complained that the sales price was too high. Ada County Commissioner David Case urged the college to scuttle the deal.

But Roger Michener, 72, whose career in Treasure Valley commercial real estate and development spans four decades, says assessed value has virtually no impact on sales prices of bare-ground commercial property, and appraisals are just one person’s educated guess about a property’s worth.

“I can tell you as an absolute fact right today I have got a piece of ground that I own – just a old farmhouse and a few acres – under contract (to sell) for 10 times assessed value,” Michener said.

Michener started Michener Investment about 35 years ago. He has turned the business over to his son, Hoyt, and an agent. He now does his own development work from an office he rents in the investment company at 14th and Idaho streets. The investment company also pays him rent, because he owns the building.

Michener has served on the foundations at Boise State University, Idaho State University and the College of Western Idaho. He left the CWI board about four years ago. He has a relative who works at CWI but declines to say who it is. “It’s just irrelevant,” he said.

He called me Wednesday after telling CWI President Bert Glandon that he wanted to talk with me about assessments and appraisals.

Michener said he owns no property, nor does he have any development plans, around the Rice property.

He thinks CWI erred when it announced it had signed the sales agreement with the Rice Family Trust. Trustees should have said they had entered into a sales agreement and would do six months of due diligence, including getting an appraisal.

Instead, he said, they told people they made a mistake by not getting one in advance. Trustees now say they will likely get an appraisal.

People unfamiliar with real estate put too much emphasis on appraisals, he said: “They treat appraisals like it is the word of God.”

CWI would pay $20 a square foot for the property. “If they think $20 a square foot is high, I think I can get appraiser to appraise it at $30 a square foot, and they’ll think they are getting a bargain,” he said. “It is that flexible, almost.”

An appraisal is just a guide, Michener said. “When buying a future college site with taxpayer money, would it be more prudent to pay 25 percent over appraisal for the best location or 25 percent under appraisal for an inferior site?”

He said the $8.8 million is a reasonable price for the property, which has things important to CWI: Proximity to the I-184 Connector, enough acreage for the campus, and amenities such as the Boise River, the under-construction Esther Simplot Park and the city’s new whitewater park.

So if the site is such a great deal, why hasn’t Michener bought it?

“I don’t have $8.8 million, for one thing,” he said. “I’m not building a college.”