Doctor wants more for land

Dr. Gautam Gupta, owner of the Nutrition Clinic of Rockford, will get his own appraisal of land he owns at the corner of West State and Church streets after being offered what he called a “completely ridiculous and silly” price by the City of Rockford.

The city offered to purchase the land, which extends from West State to Elm streets and is bordered by the MetroCentre, the Winnebago County Courthouse and Downtown Discount Drug, for a little more than $130,000. The city wants to use the land, which includes the old D.J. Stewart Co. garage on Elm Street, for flat-level parking.

Mark Rose, land acquisition officer for the City of Rockford, said the city reached the $130,000 figure from an appraisal conducted by Charles Davidson & Associates, which also appraised the land for the Perryville Road extension.

Gupta said at a press conference Aug. 21 that the value of 5,000 square feet of the land, based on location and previous sales, is at least $450,000 ($90 per square foot), which would put the total value of the land at more than $1 million. He said the scheduled building of a new jail and federal courthouse would add to the value.

Rose said, although appraisals typically don’t take previous sales into consideration, location was considered. He also said Gupta’s $90 per-square-foot estimate “would be a higher price than any commercial land purchased in Rockford.”

If Gupta does not agree to the city’s offer, Rose said the city might use eminent domain to acquire the land, which means Gupta would be forced to agree to the $130,000 figure. To do this, the city would need to prove the land would offer a public service and that the price being offered was fair. Gupta said he will “absolutely not” settle for what the city is offering him, and said he is willing to fight it in court. City council is expected to vote at its Sept. 2 meeting on whether to use eminent domain.

Gupta, who moved to Rockford in 1983, owned the Downtown Medical Clinic at the corner of West State and Church streets from 1983 until 1997 when he sold the property for $225,000 to a Kane County investor. The Kane County investor immediately tore down the Medical Clinic building at an estimated cost of $75,000.

Rose said the demolition of the building probably lowered the price of the property. “Since the building was torn down, that doesn’t make the land the same value today,” Rose said. “I would suspect that there was some value in the property itself above and beyond the land value.”

In August 2002, Gupta purchased the land for $235,000 from his business partner David Casazza. However, Gupta said it’s difficult to put an exact price on the property because the purchase was part of a re-negotiated 1997 deal in which Gupta sold his half share in local tool shop Roper-Whitney for $2.5 million over 10 years and $180,000 per year for life.

Gupta, who also owns the Trust Building at the corner of Wyman and West State streets, planned to build a hotel and convention center on the Church Street property, but now is not sure what to do with it. “The city has treated me very bad,” Gupta said. “I’ve not been able to put things together. Now I’m not going to think about it because I might end up not owning it.”

Gupta said he would build a parking ramp on the property if that were what the city wanted. Yet, Rose said private parking ramps are not a wise economic investment because owners rarely make a profit.

The City of Rockford fined Gupta $2,000 on July 23 for an unkept lot, a move he said was “a blatant attempt to coerce me into selling this property cheap to the city.”

Jennifer Cacciapaglia, assistant city attorney for the City of Rockford, said: “If I were trying to use code hearings to pressure him to sell for a lower price, we would have fined him a lot more. It had absolutely nothing to do with it. His statement is false, and it has absolutely no merit.”

Cacciapaglia added that she wasn’t aware until Aug. 11 of the city’s intention to purchase the property.

However, Ronald Schultz, City of Rockford legal director, said he had known of the city’s intentions for the property since early spring. Yet, he said: “I don’t think [the idea that the city is trying to coerce Gupta to sell cheap] is true at all. We’re offering him a fair market value.”

Gupta originally said during the press conference that the fine was the first notice of unkept property he had been given by the city. Yet, Cacciapaglia said numerous letters were sent by the city to Casazza notifying him of the property’s condition. Cacciapaglia said the last letter was sent to Casazza on June 26. Rose said, “I know he’s had lots of opportunities to appear and state his case.”

In a follow-up interview, Gupta said he was aware of the letters and allowed Casazza to appear on his behalf at a July 23 code hearing. Casazza agreed to the code violations and the $2,000 fine at the code hearing. Part of the agreement with the city, however, was that if trees were planted on the property by Aug. 10 and grass was planted by Oct. 1, the fine would be reduced to $500. Two trees and flowers were planted at each end of the old D.J. Stewart Co. garage, and about eight sprinklers were watering newly planted grass on the property during the Aug. 21 press conference. When questioned about the trees and grass during the press conference, Gupta said, “I want it to look nice.”

Cacciapaglia said it appears the agreement has been met, so the fine will probably be reduced. Rose added: “It seems like we had to hit him over the head with a hammer to even get him to plant some grass there.”

Also at issue during the press conference was who was using the old D.J. Stewart Co. garage. Wooden panels, boards, scaffolding and a van were visible from the main entrance to the garage off Elm Street Aug. 21, and Gupta said he didn’t have a key to the building.

Gupta said in a letter to Rose that the MetroCentre, the City of Rockford and On the Waterfront (OTW) occupied the garage. “As a result of their occupation, it has sustained substantial damage, and I shall be shortly asking for them to repair the garage, which would further enhance the value of this property,” Gupta wrote. “As of this date, I have never received a dime from On the Waterfront, the MetroCentre, or the City of Rockford, nor have any of these entities ever performed any maintenance on this building which they are occupying. I don’t even have a key to my own building—the MetroCentre has the only set of keys.”

The MetroCentre does have a key to the building, according to MetroCentre Director of Operations Mike Walsh. Walsh said the building is used for storage of old sacker dashes, sacker turf, plywood and old staging.

“I know we’ve been in there, but I’m not sure the arrangement we have,” Walsh said.

Walsh said he gave a key to the building to one of Gupta’s employees a couple weeks ago. He also said the MetroCentre has used the building for at least two years, and he is not aware of any damage the building has incurred. Although city officials deny having access to the building, Walsh said, “I know the city’s been going in and out of it, so I know they have a key.”

Rose, who negotiates all of the city’s leases for storage, said: “I don’t think the city is in there at all. I don’t know why we would be. Why doesn’t he [Gupta] have a key? I don’t know why he doesn’t know who is in his garage.”

Becky Genoways, CEO of OTW, said OTW used to use the top floor of the five-story building for storage, but moved out about two or three years ago.

Gupta said he didn’t ask for a key to the building because “I want to be a good citizen and do the right thing for downtown and the city of Rockford. I want to be civilized. I don’t want to fight the city. I want to cooperate.”

As for the price the city is offering, Rose said: “We’re committed to paying full market value for the property. That’s why we use outside sources to do the appraisals. And if he thinks it’s worth more, he should get an appraisal to get an adjustment of that price.”

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