Largest Belfast taxpayer seeks lower assessment

By Ethan Andrews | Jul 07, 2016
Photo by: Ethan Andrews STAG IV Belfast, owner of a four-building complex, shown, that is home to Bank of America and On Process Technology, is seeking a lower assessment.

Belfast — The owner of the Route 3 property that is home to Bank of America and On Process Technology has asked the city to reconsider the value of the property for tax purposes.

STAG IV Belfast LLC owns 141 acres and four buildings that comprised half of the former MBNA complex. The city valued the land and buildings last year at $33.2 million and billed for roughly $743,000 in taxes — making STAG IV the largest taxpayer in the city, according to city documents.

The request to reconsider came up during a city budget work session June 29. Assessor Brent Martin suggested the City Council take into consideration the possibility of a change in valuation of the STAG IV property because it could affect tax revenue.

The Council set aside enough to keep the mill rate below $23 per $1,000 of property value. Martin said that figure was based on the STAG IV property value remaining the same.

"It's taking it into consideration," he said. "But it's not making an adjustment for an adjustment."

According to city records, the property was assessed at $25 million in 1998 and crept up to $29 million over the next decade. In 2009, the city abruptly bumped up the value to $41 million.

Martin dropped the assessment to $33.2 million last year after several requests. The first, he said, came from an entity claiming to represent STAG IV Belfast. Martin wasn't able to confirm a relationship; he ultimately found the request "incomplete" and issued no opinion.

Speaking generally, Martin said it's common for third-party agents to ask for abatements on behalf of large commercial landowners, sometimes simply on the chance that it might work.

Approached later by a certified agent of STAG IV, Martin said he walked the property and found the facility had depreciated since the last assessment, when the buildings were viewed as being in excellent condition, "as if they were new." That led to the 2015 reduction.

Martin said STAG IV has not proposed a specific dollar amount. He visited the property at the end of June but declined to speak about the negotiations. Speaking July 5, he said the city has taken no action.

"We're in this window now where they're saying, 'don't commit to this number. We think it's worth less. We want to show you why it's worth less,'" he said.

STAG IV Belfast is a subsidiary of Single Tenant Acquisition Group, a real estate holding company that specializes in mid-sized industrial and commercial properties with, as the name implies, one tenant.

For most of the time since STAG IV Belfast acquired the property in 2009, that's been Bank of America. The company once filled the four-building complex but has gradually scaled back its Belfast call center. Today, Martin said, Bank of America occupies just one of the four buildings. On Process Technology, a Massachusetts-based logistics company that opened offices in Belfast last year, occupies another. The remaining two buildings are vacant.

Occupancy affects income in commercial properties, and income is one of several factors — along with market value, physical condition and depreciation — that assessors use to determine value, Martin said.

These played a role in several abatement requests in 2011. That year, Ocean State Job Lot filed for a $917,000 abatement on its Starrett Drive retail store, then valued at $2.2 million. The assessment went unchanged at the time, but was dropped to $1.8 million three years later.

Two other large commercial property owners asked for abatements the same year.

Harbor Hill Center, a subsidiary of Genesis HealthCare Corp., cited market value and income in an unsuccessful request to cut the value of its $5.2 million assisted living facility in half, and Belfast Holdings LLC, owner of Belfast Plaza, claimed vacancies and an inability to attract tenants in an unsuccessful bid to knock $333,700 off the value of the $1.33 million shopping center.

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