City officials concerned about vacant properties

The Shawano Leader/October 17, 2004
By Tim Ryan

The number of properties purchased by Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy over the past few years has raised concerns among residents, business leaders, and city officials. More worrying, in terms of the economic health of the city, is the number of those commercial properties that have remained vacant.

Officials and business leaders insist, however, that the issue is not about who is buying the properties but about what is - or in most cases is not - being done with them.

City officials, who said they have fielded many calls about Samanta Roy's purchases, said there are some misconceptions in the community.

One is the mistaken belief that his properties have a religious exemption from property taxes. Samanta Roy, who heads the Disciples of the Lord Jesus, has never applied for tax exempt status for the properties. The estimated total tax on his properties in the city is more than $73,000.

Another misconception is that the city could, if it wanted to, do something to control Samanta Roy's property purchases or somehow mandate that the properties are developed.

"We've talked to other communities, we've talked to our legal counsel. It's not something the city is able to do," Mayor Lorna Marquardt said, adding any such effort would be unconstitutional. "It's out of our control."

The city has no involvement with the private buying and selling of properties, Marquardt said. Though rumors often circulate in advance of a purchase, city officials usually don't know about a sale until after the fact, she said.

"The city is not involved in the sale of properties," Marquardt said.

Marquardt also said the city has very little contact with Samanta Roy.

"People seem to think we have a lot of communication," she said. "I've never met Dr. (Samanta) Roy.

Marquardt has said she will not meet privately with Samanta Roy, maintaining that any meetings should be open to the public.

"Because the community has received so little information and is wondering what is occurring, and because everything has been almost secretive, I wouldn't want to give the appearance that the city was having any type of private conversations," Marquardt said. "I just don't think that's the way the elected officials or the community want us to handle this. We did invite them to our meetings and I guess I don't have anything that needs to be said privately to him."

Marquardt said that neither Samanta Roy nor those listed as agents for the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology (SIST) and Midwest Properties seem to have any involvement in the community.

"Most (business owners) are involved in civic groups, most want to be visible," she said. "Most businesses give back to the community in different ways. I'm not saying he isn't doing that but I haven't seen him attend anything.

As for the businesses owned by Samanta Roy that are operating in the city, city administrator Jim Stadler said, "It's a positive thing for the community to have thriving businesses."

Samanta Roy has two businesses operating in the city - Midwest Gift and Fudge House, 104 Old Lake Road, and the Mobil station on East Green Bay Street. He has also recently opened the USA International Raceway in the Town of Wescott just outside Shawano.

City officials were given an ambitious list of future plans for Samanta Roy's vacant properties at a July 7 Common Council meeting.

SIST representative Kal Gronvall told the council that the first new business that would be opened was a news center at 303 E. Green Bay St. He said it would be opened in three months, which would be some time in October.

City officials said they have previously seen carpenters at the site but have recently seen no activity, though there have been plans submitted by SIST to the state and approved. A building permit was issued last year and was renewed in April.

Site plans for the property, designed by the Heyrman Construction Co. of Green Bay, were submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Commerce in April of 2003.

City officials remain skeptical.

"I would need to see something happen," said Marquardt, who noted that most of the plans detailed at the July 7 meeting were not new. Most were presented to the Common Council in written form at a meeting last year.

The properties purchased by Samanta Roy might still be vacant even if he hadn't bought them but there's no way of knowing that, said Stadler.

He's taken them off the market," Stadler said. "He appears to purchase for the sake of ownership and makes very little effort in developing them."

"We want to see the properties developed," Marquardt said. "The city has put a lot of money into downtown revitalization."

Most of Samanta Roy's vacant properties are in "fair shape" right now, Marquardt said, except for the property at 153 S. Main St., which she said is nearing blighted.

"It has been inspected for safety," she said. "We're keeping an eye on it, as we would with any property."

Stadler said the 153 S. Main St. property was "getting close" to condemnation. "Boarded windows are the first sign of blight," he said. "It can certainly be salvaged. It's a viable structure."

Building inspector Bill Guelzow wouldn't go so far as to call the building blighted.

"It's annoying," he said. As for condemnation, he said, "it's a possibility for all buildings that remain vacant."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.