South Salt Lake announced in October it had entered into plans to buy and rehab the historic Granite High School into a motion picture and television production facility but no one has bought the property yet.
During the fall press conference, South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood said developer Woodbury Corp. and partner Redman Movies and Stories had formed a joint venture. The plan was to preserve and renovate the roughly 45-year-old building and 27-acre site at about 3300 South and 500 East and use it as a setting and studio for films.
But the deal still hasn't been finalized, according to city officials and the Granite School District, which has leased the property to the city since April 2011. In fact, there is no current lease agreement as of the end of January.
Resident Bob LeMone, who lives near the school, says the idea sounds great, but until papers are signed it is just a dream that is costing taxpayers.
"I think after that press conference everyone assumed Woodbury was taking over the payments of the building, and that is not what is going on," LeMone said, adding that he hasn't been able to get any information from the city.
LeMone wasn't the only one who thought the deal was final. KSL Newsradio's commentator Doug Wright did a special TV editorial applauding the partnership between the three parties to open a studio very soon.
In the editorial video, Wright an alumnus of the school says "it looks like they are already moving in," as he walks past an archaic film projector assumed to be property of Redman Movies and Stories just inside the entrance of the school.
A lease agreement, obtained by an open records request, between the city and the school district shows in late October the city told the school district of its intent to purchase Granite with the involvement of Woodbury. The developer paid the school district $500,000 to extend the city's lease which would have ended in November to Jan. 31. The city had already extended the lease once before.
Mayor Wood declined comment to an email from The Tribune asking what the October media event was for and if at that point a deal had been solidified.
"We are optimistic the property will be purchased in the next few weeks," said Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley, adding it is moving forward "in good faith" that the city will finalize negotiations with the developer.
The district has been looking for an open space option for the property and feels it has found one.
"It has always been an inherent desire to offer this property up for open space," Horsley said. "We are glad to find some community benefit rather than open it up to open development."
Since October, the city has paid a total of $128,300 for a mostly unoccupied building, according to city documents obtained by an open records request. Of that total, $66,800 was spent on utilities and property maintenance, while an additional $61,500 was used for a roof and building repairs. The city has also been accruing nearly $29,000 monthly in interest that the district let them defer until the $8.7 million purchase of the property was made.
"The school district did the city a wonderful favor by not requiring them to pay interest every month until closing," said South Salt Lake Economic Development Director Randy Sant.
Sant says Woodbury will pay $8.4 million and the city will pay the remaining $300,000 plus monthly interest accrued for the past 1½ years. He expects the deal to be completed in about 30 days.
Sant said the city will buy the currently tax exempt property from the school district and then sell it to Woodbury. He said the deal would not increase taxes for residents.
LeMone said he realizes real estate deals take time, but he thinks the city shouldn't have been using taxpayer money to pay month after month on a property that wasn't being utilized like they said it would be.
"It's not done until the deal is done and they actually come up with the money for it."
Redman Movies and Stories and Woodbury Corp. would not comment on the pending real estate deal until negotiations were finalized.