Close Window | Print

 

San Jose Mercury News

 

October 11, 2007

 

By Julie Patel

 

 

Santa Clara County assessor wades into roiling 49ers stadium debate

 

 

Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone - a longtime booster for bringing pro sports to the South Bay - joined the debate over a proposed San Francisco 49ers stadium Thursday, accusing Great America's owner of low-balling the park's value while also angling for a hefty selling price.

 

Stone's office this year assessed the value of the park, owned by Ohio-based Cedar Fair, at $114 million. Thursday, Stone revealed the park has disputed that assessed value, claiming that the park is worth $26 million after claiming in an appeal last year that it was worth $44 million.

 

"You can't have it both ways," Stone said, adding that it appears Ohio-based Cedar Fair is trying to dump Great America, which sits on land leased from the city of Santa Clara.

 

Cedar Fair on Thursday took umbrage with Stone's claim, which thrust the $854 million stadium issue in the news for a third day. The park's worth became a hot-button issue when the 49ers said they would be willing to buy the theme park to keep the deal moving.

 

Spokeswoman Stacy Frole said the company would not have invested roughly $6 million in Great America last year and made plans to invest $15 million this year if it wanted to bail. She also noted there's a difference between the value assessed for property taxes and fair market value.

 

"It's not a fair comparison and a good assessor would tell you that," she said. "But that may not fit his agenda politically."

 

Officials who oversee the property tax rolls in other counties also said a property's assessed value has little to do with what it might actually sell for. Others raised questions about Stone's involvement in the issue.

 

But Stone defended himself.

 

"If the assessor wasn't a football fan, this would've never come out," Stone said. "I didn't say it's worth $26 million, they did. I'm just reporting the facts and it's all public information.

 

"This happens a lot - with homeowners, office buildings, shopping centers - where they say it's worth less than assessed and put it on the market for more. It's not unusual. We're just pointing out the difference."

 

49ers spokeswoman Lisa Lang said the discussions haven't gone far enough for concrete figures.

 

Cedar Fair, which purchased five parks including Great America from Paramount parks last year for $1.24 billion, doesn't own the land under Great America, as it does for its 11 other parks. It has a lease for city-owned land that runs through 2039 and requires the park to pay at least $5.3 million annually in rent, plus $117,000 to use 8,100 parking spaces on city land.

 

Frole said the assessed value, whatever it ends up as, still doesn't include all of the park's taxable property. More importantly, she said it doesn't include intangible assets that can add value or give a company a competitive edge such as its workforce, name, branding, logos and trademarks.

 

Councilman Kevin Moore said he has several concerns, including that Cedar Fair is trying to get a break on taxes that support city services.

 

"They're saying, 'Hey, our park isn't worth a lot' but then they say it is worth a lot," he said. "Cedar Fair is back to flip-flopping again but this time it's on the price."

But several local assessors agreed that the fair market value can't simply be gleaned from the assessed value.

 

"It's two different things," said Brian Hitomi, Alameda County's chief of Appraisal Services. "What one person would pay could be different from another, even if they know all the facts."

 

San Mateo County Deputy Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Terry Flinn put it this way: "When you're looking at a company like Google, it's a pretty valuable company that worth a lot more than its buildings."

 

He said that would be the case with an amusement park, too.

 

Santa Clara University political ethics expert Judy Nadler, who opposed major public subsidies for stadiums when she was mayor of Santa Clara, said the issue raises the question of whether Stone should be involved in the first place.

 

"To his credit, he's made it clear that he's absolutely a sports fan," she said. "To the extent he's then making comments about the owner of the park in the context of this issue, that raises some red flags."

 

Contact Julie Patel at jpatel@mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3679.