The City of Camden is defending itself against allegations that it is improperly hindering the Victor Building apartments' sale to one of the nation's biggest residential landlords, saying it has questions about the entity set up by the company, Denver-based Apartment Investment & Management Co. (Aimco), to take possession of the property.
Camden spokesperson Vincent Basara, citing ongoing litigation, declined to elaborate on the city's specific concerns about the Aimco entity aiming to buy the 349-apartment Victor from Philadelphia developer Carl Dranoff, but said the transfer of tax breaks connected to the project needs to be reviewed.
"There are some questions about the sale and the entity who it is being sold to," Basara said Tuesday. "We want to make sure everything is transparent in that transfer."
A Dranoff spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit. An Aimco spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Basara's remarks came a day after lawyers for the city entered a motion with U.S. District Court in Camden to dismiss Dranoff's lawsuit, filed two weeks earlier. In the suit, Dranoff accused Camden officials of breach of contract for allegedly shirking an obligation to transfer the tax breaks, endangering his deal to sell the Victor to Aimco.
The apartments are among six Philadelphia-area properties that Dranoff Properties Inc. is selling to Aimco, ranked by the National Multifamily Housing Council as the nation's 21st biggest apartment landlord, with about 43,800 units under management as of Jan. 1. The companies valued the six buildings at $445 million when they announced the deal in June.
Aimco's deal to buy the Victor must conclude before Sept. 4 and is conditional on the transfer of the tax break, according to Dranoff's June 20 complaint, which accuses Camden officials of refusing to place the transfer request on a City Council agenda for approval.
In their motion seeking the suit's dismissal, Camden's lawyers argued that District Court was the wrong venue for the case, due to a stipulation in the 2002 agreement between Dranoff and the city authorizing the tax breaks that directs disputes over the deal to New Jersey Superior Court or to an arbitrator.
The lawyers also faulted the complaint for asserting that city officials regularly block requests to City Council by those who have "fallen out of political favor" but providing no concrete examples.
Dranoff "has a $71 million contract with Aimco for the purchase of the Victor Building," Camden's lawyers wrote in its filing. "Apparently, [Dranoff] wants those funds now, without any regard for the city defendants' due diligence obligations and their own rights."
Under Dranoff's 2002 deal with Camden, part of its urban revitalization efforts, the Victor is subject to payments to the city of about $200,000 a year, rather than the $912,008 it would owe in property taxes based on its current assessed value, Basara said in a press statement Monday.
Dranoff's complaint asserted that the deal made the tax break transferable if the property is sold to a buyer with "urban renewal" qualifications, such as the Aimco entity under agreement to buy the building.
But Basara said the city needs to complete a review process to establish whether the transfer can occur.
"City taxpayers deserve the right to a fair and transparent analysis of Dranoff's proposed sale and will not be intimidated by Dranoff's tactics," he said in the statement. "The city has the right to a full accounting of Dranoff's books and records in addition to a due diligence review of the recently created business that seeks to make the purchase."
The statement also faulted Dranoff for not following through with the so-called Radio Lofts project, which involved the conversion of another building that had been part of the RCA Victor factory complex on Camden's Delaware River waterfront into residences.