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Story Mansion appraisal impacts plans to sell

By Colin Cashin, KTVM Reporter, ccashin@ktvm.com
Published On: Mar 21 2014 06:19:27 PM MDT
Updated On: Mar 21 2014 06:41:30 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Bozeman's Story Mansion is a small step closer to finding new owners.

A new appraisal valued the home at just over $1.5 million. That value is a little more than the $200,000 the city paid for the property back in 2003, but well below the $3.6 million the city has invested in the mansion.

Bozeman has been looking to get the mansion off its books for several years. An earlier deal with the nonprofit Exergy Friends of the Story Mansion fell through and sent the city back to the drawing board, looking for new proposals.

The city of Bozeman began taking proposals on the Story Mansion last year.

"The idea was to get proposals and see how much they would bid before we got the appraisal," said City Commissioner Chris Mehl, "because the idea was we didn't want the appraisal to become the ceiling."

Four offers came through -- ranging from an art museum, an inn, a civic center, or classrooms and offices for a religious nonprofit.

At the time the proposals were submitted, the fair market value was thought to be around $2.5 million. The latest appraisal came in about $1 million below that.

Chris Mehl said, "We haven't seen bids that come close to the appraised value."

Just one came in above -- Tree of Life Ministries saying it would pay $2 million to turn the mansion into class rooms.

The report lists a number of issues with the building, particularly the second and third floors have yet to be refurbished. And a protect historic grant that reqires anyone who purchases the mansion to allow public access at least 12 days per year.

Mehl explained, "It doesn't have to be every single day, you know, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. But there has to be some amount of significant public access."

Under city code the city can't legally sell the mansion for less than 90 percent of the value given to it by the appraisal, or around $1.3 million.

Different rules apply if the city chooses to gift it to a nonprofit, Mehl tells NBC Montana who ever takes it over, it's important to make sure those groups have the financial means to support the mansion.

Mehl said, "Really the discussion we'll make is how much can we get for it compared to nonprofit, compared to the city owning it. Which makes more sense going forward. And that depends on he bids we get."

The Story Mansion has been a fixture in the historic Bon Ton neighborhood of south-central Bozeman for more than 100 years. The mansion was built in 1910 by cattle baron Nelson Story for T. Byron Story's family.

In 1922 the 22-room, 9,000-square-foot residence was sold to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. The fraternity owned the building until 2003, when it was sold to the city. The city began restoration in 2004.

In 2009, it was opened to the public to rent for events like weddings and used for community events.

With the mansion preparing to enter its next chapter, we asked residents what they would like to see happen with the historic building.

Montana State University student Kaylee Bradford told us, "Both my grandpa and my dad lived there as SAE, so I would love to see something cool happen with the space."

Resident Michael Miles lives across the street from the mansion. He said, "Cities around the country would give anything to have a mansion like this. The monetary value is nothing compared to its resource for the state of Montana."

The appraisal says an ideal use for the mansion would be a single-family home.

Commissioner Chris Mehl tells us moving forward, the commission will take the appraisal information to the groups that made last year's proposals to see if they're still interested. He also tells us they'll accept new bids on the property.