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Simao protests sale of Hospice building in Watertown

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Real estate developer P.J. Simao is trying to stop the pending sale of the Hospice Foundation of Jefferson County Inc.’s property at 425 Washington St., contending the sale price is far below what the nonprofit organization should receive.

The foundation, which provides financial support to Hospice of Jefferson County, received approval from the state attorney general and state Supreme Court to sell the two-story, 5,500-square-foot brick building for $150,000 to N&G Rentals LLC, Watertown, whose managing member is Watertown accountant Jerry R. Gardner.

Mr. Simao pointed to a 2011 appraisal conducted by Scott H. Gillette, a state-certified real estate appraiser then working for Upstate Appraisal Associates, Watertown, which set the appraised value at $365,000. Mr. Gillette, who now operates Northern New York Appraisal Services LLC and who has more than 30 years’ appraisal experience, said Monday, “I stand by the value of my appraisal,” declining further comment on the matter.

The city has assessed the tax-exempt property at $335,400 and estimates its full market value at $376,000. The foundation purchased the property in 1993 for $290,000.

Mr. Simao also has obtained a “broker’s opinion of value” for the property from Robert C. Nelson, Alexandria Bay, a senior broker with CBRE, Syracuse, who determined that the present market value of the property is between $275,000 and $350,000.

“In my opinion, that property would sell and bring them at least $100,000 more than they’re getting now. At least a $100,000, at minimum,” Mr. Simao said Monday.

Mr. Simao, a longtime supporter of Hospice who has helped the organization raise more than $700,000 over the years, has retained the Syracuse law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King to prepare a letter for members of the foundation’s board protesting the sale and asking the board to halt the sale, which is slated to close Wednesday.

“I’m using my own resources to try to get them to reconsider this and do what’s in the best interest of Hospice,” he said. “I have put a lot of time, effort and money into Hospice because I think their mission is a very worthwhile cause.”

Mr. Simao maintains that he has no interest in acquiring the property for himself or any of his real estate companies and that he does not stand to benefit in any way if the sale is not consummated.

“My main goal is to get Hospice what the building is worth,” he said.

What the property is worth appears to be something of a moving target. Christensen Realty USA, Clayton, began listing the property for sale in May 2011 with an asking price of about $300,000. At the time, broker Gail D. Christensen was a Hospice board member and the company agreed to list and sell the property at no cost to Hospice. However, owner Walter J. Christensen told the foundation board in a letter Oct. 15 that his company had shown the property “dozens of times” but received only one offer, for $125,000. Hospice countered with a $150,000 offer, but the potential buyer did not bite.

Given the lack of movement toward a sale, Anthony G. Netto, a certified residential appraiser and chief appraiser with Upstate Appraisal Associates, provided a letter to the foundation Nov. 6 stating the property’s fair market value is “substantially less” than its tax assessment, as well as the price for which it was initially offered for sale. Mr. Netto, citing the need for upgrades and other improvements in order to “make the building functional office space,” set the full market value at $150,000, stating in his letter that it probably would take another $150,000 to complete the renovations.

Hospice Chief Executive Officer Diana K. Woodhouse said that she was going to present Mr. Simao’s concerns to both the Hospice and foundation boards Monday, but that, “ I don’t know if the board will change its mind” about the sale.

“Was it the price we wanted? Certainly we would have liked more money, but it was on the market for a long time,” she said.

She said the more-than-100-year-old building was costly for Hospice to maintain and the onset of winter would only increase those costs.

“I don’t know if it’s in anybody’s best interest to leave the building vacant,” Mrs. Woodhouse said.

Hospice no longer needs the property following construction of an eight-bed residence, including office space, at 1398 Gotham St. Proceeds of the sale will defray costs of constructing the Gotham Street facility.

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