Part of mall property headed to block

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WALLA WALLA -- The southern portion of the former Blue Mountain Mall property will be on the auction block Nov. 2.

The city of Walla Walla is moving forward with an order of sale signed Sept. 15 by Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht and will seek a little more than $500,000 as the minimum bid for the property, according to the latest filing.

The 9 a.m. sale is one of numerous processes in motion to reignite development activity at the obliterated property after owners of the commercial land abandoned their redevelopment three years ago amid financial problems.

Among the bills they have not paid are assessments from a Local Improvement District created more than 20 years ago for road improvements from when the Blue Mountain Mall was originally built.

The portion of the property included in the LID runs from the eastern property line to Myra Road and from Poplar Street to near the south wall of the former mall, said Walla Walla city attorney Tim Donaldson. It does not include Shopko, Sears or anything north of those stores.

Though the sale includes just a portion of the mall property, Donaldson said he does not foresee the land being split up.

"We're not at the end of the day going to end up with something where part of it's in limbo," he said.

He said that's partly because the LID foreclosure is just one of several processes intended to require the owners to pay what is owed or sell the property to someone who can develop it.

According to the Sept. 30 filing, the minimum acceptable bid on the property is $506,761.00. If no one submits that bid, the title will then go to Walla Walla County.

If a buyer comes forward the purchase will be subject to a "right of redemption." The current owner, Walla Walla Town Center LLC, would be able to regain ownership and possession if it pays its delinquencies in the two-year period after the sale, Donaldson said.

He said Walla Walla Town Center and its principal owner, Winston Bontrager, have not responded to the filings or any other notifications.

In the meantime, the city continues to pursue its nuisance abatement measures at the property.

The city was granted access to the property in an Aug. 12 abatement order authorized by Schacht.

The order of abatement is essentially a lien on the property. Once the cleanup takes place, Walla Walla Town Center could ultimately write the city a check for the cost and continue to own the property. If owners don't pay for the abatement, a sale of the property could be forced. But even if Walla Walla Town Center pays for the abatement, it may not necessarily resume redevelopment, Donaldson has said.

He said the city is moving forward on abatement and expects a contract for the work to be signed by Oct. 12. The nuisance abatement affects the entire property, including the parts not covered by the LID foreclosure and auction.

The county also continues to follow its own filings related to delinquent property taxes, Donaldson said.

With the multiple filings, if a minimum bidder does not come forward at the November auction, Donaldson said it's not likely the county would have to wait out the two-year redemption period before a sale of the full property takes place.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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