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TOOELE — An order filed in 3rd District Court on Thursday vacated the sale of Miller Motorsports Park to a Chinese automotive firm, saying Tooele County shortchanged another bidder by unlawfully selling the property at a price significantly below fair market value.
In late July, the county awarded the sale of the sports park to Mitime Investment and Development Group, a subsidiary of Geely Group of Cos. Mitime Investment, for $20 million. A competing bidder, Wyoming-based Center Point Management, filed a lawsuit in September requesting a halt of the sale, saying that it offered more but that the county illegally turned them down after being lured by unverifiable promises from Mitime about the future development of the property.
Judge Robert Atkins said in his written ruling Thursday that, using its own data, Tooele County taxed Miller Motorsports Park at a rate that valued the property at about $28.1 million. Center Point also reportedly bid $22.5 million on the park prior to the sale. Atkins said those two factors show the county knowingly sold the property below market value, which is illegal in the sale of public property.
The county later hired an appraiser to evaluate the property and he concluded it was worth $9 million, according to court documents. But that appraisal occurred after the sale for the purposes of the lawsuit and was unconvincing compared to real-life figures being offered for ownership of the motorsports park, Atkins said.
"Appraisals are only estimates of the price at which a willing seller and willing buyer will strike a deal," he wrote. "Where there is an actual agreement between two such parties, an estimate of the strike price by appraisal is unnecessary."
During the litigation, Center Point reportedly said it would pay $28.1 million for the property.
County Commissioner 'disappointed' by the ruling
Tooele County officials didn't say Thursday whether it would appeal the ruling. It wasn't clear whether the halt of the sale would effectively re-activate an open bidding process, or when that might occur.
"We are disappointed by the judge's findings," said county Commissioner Shawn Milne in a statement. "Tooele County is committed to bringing about the successful sale of the Miller Motorsports Park property. It is important to the citizens of the county that it remain a viable racetrack, and that the jobs and businesses associated with the facility, as well the revenue realized by the county and area businesses, remain intact. In light of the court's decision, the county is considering several options to resolve this situation in both the short and long-term."
Atkins criticized the county's handling of the sale, saying that selling the property below its value is a disservice to residents and other bidders.
"It appears that such rights were granted (to Mitime) in an inappropriate attempt to circumvent the law and avoid the prospect of having to address a higher purchase offer from another willing purchaser," the judge wrote.
Preparing for the possibility of an invalidated sale, Tooele County and Mitime included a leasing option in their deal, but the agreed-upon lease would violate the law for the same reasons that the sale is illegal, Atkins said.