(Bloomberg)—After languishing on the real estate market for months, a multimillion-dollar, seven-story, basket-shaped building will soon be the property of Licking County, Ohio. A foreclosure is imminent, according to local officials.
The unusual building was once home to the Longaberger Company, a direct sales business best known for its picnic baskets. Completed in 1997, the 180,000-square-foot basket cost $32 million to build, a pittance for a company that once boasted sales of $1 billion. But Longaberger's popularity, and sales, have diminished, and in 2015, it was acquired by JRJR Networks, a Dallas-based holding company.
Foreclosure reports have circulated about the infamous building for several years, as the county has not received a property tax payment since November 2014. The most recent tax payment was due at the end of February, local treasurer Olivia Parkinson said. Including fees, the total amount owed is a bit more than $700,000, considerably less than its estimated worth. The building is currently on the market for $5 million, or about $28 a square foot.
"The property has been referred to the Licking County Prosecutor’s office, and title work has been obtained," Parkinson said when contacted by email. "I believe the complaint for foreclosure will be filed with the Common Pleas court in the very near future." Carolyn Carnes, the county's prosecutor, said her office is still waiting for the title update necessary to draft the complaint. She estimated it would be filed within "the next few weeks." The complaint is the first of several steps toward a foreclosure auction, though the process can take more than six months.
JRJR Networks declined to comment on the foreclosure. The company is currently in a lawsuit with the former owner of the Longaberger Company, Tamala L. Longaberger, and her revocable trust. In a case filed last year in Dallas district court, JRJR alleged Longaberger Company's tax liability was not disclosed during the sales process. Only after the purchase, the holding company said, did it learn of tax-related agreements Longaberger executed with the City of Newark, where the basket building stands. The case, which is pending, demands damages, a jury trial, and attorneys fees. (Attorneys for both Longaberger and JRJR Networks did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
In an effort to avoid foreclosing on the property, Parkinson's office sent multiple notices to JRJR Networks, she said. She also attended several meetings late last year with a representative of JRJR Networks as well as local community leaders. "Much of the discussion at these meetings revolved around explaining the property taxes, the GAP agreement with the City of Newark, and discussion about JRJR’s intentions for the property," she said. Since the end of last year, Parkinson said she did not receive any further communication from the company.
Because of the ongoing suit, this will likely be a complicated and drawn-out foreclosure process, explained local attorney Richard L. Levine. If the foreclosure does proceed in a typical, timely manner, the property will be auctioned off, with a starting price equivalent to the debt owed. "There are blighted properties that end up ... being contributed to a land bank," he said. "But that would not happen—this is worth something to somebody at some price."
In the meantime, the building continues to sit on the market. Asked whether the price had dropped, realtor Michael Guagenti said, "Everything remains the same."
Some locals advocate for transforming the giant basket into a community center or local historical museum owned by the county, given the building's notoriety. But the local government has made it clear that it does not want to hold on to the property for long. "The county is not in the business of owning real estate," said Daniel McGookey, a mortgage and foreclosure attorney based in Ohio. "The county is in the business of collecting taxes."
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