The Firestone Building, long mired in public controversy, once again faces potential bidding on the county’s upcoming tax sale as a legal dispute heats up with multiple investors vying for ownership of the structure.
In 2017, with just hours to spare, investors in the Firestone Building paid $15,635.54 in back taxes to pull the once-promising downtown structure from the county’s tax sale. But, once again, Howard County listed the 219 N. Union St. property in its upcoming tax sale, this time with $24,007.21 being owed in back taxes. As the possibility of public bidding looms, a sprawling legal dispute to foreclose on the property has developed with nine different entities potentially vying to take control of the largely-abandoned downtown structure.
As it sits in shambles, 219 N. Union St. is far from having the promise it once held in 2014. At that time, then-Gov. Mike Pence came to Kokomo to champion the announcement that the site would play host to a major job creation endeavor, slated to house as many as 180 new jobs with a lease from Nexient, an information technology consulting and outsourcing firm.
But now, instead of promise, the building houses broken windows and boarded doors. Only a single tenant remains of those who have come and gone from the facility, with most leaving with complaints about the structure itself and the man who jump-started the development, Jeff Broughton. He, it seems, is no longer a part of the picture, according to previous comments from investors in the project.
The dilapidated building joins a handful of other properties that were connected to the developer and his various LLCs in being listed in the county’s tax sale, slated for Oct. 16. Those include an abandoned white barn at 519 N. Buckeye St., of which $9,240.51 in back taxes is owed. Two other properties, listed as being owned by Broughton’s Home Banc Center Inc. LLC, are a structure on East Taylor Street with $2,041.10 in back taxes as well as 109-B W. Sycamore St. with $1,367.90 owed on it.
A myriad of other properties once connected to Broughton also are slated for the sale. These properties now are registered to ADR Homes LLC, which Howard County Treasurer Weston Reed previously claimed also was connected to the seemingly now-gone developer. Fifteen such properties are listed on the sale, all together accruing $23,203.75 in back taxes.
But easily the most public structure comes by way of the Firestone Building. The 19,685-square-foot eyesore is at the center of a complicated legal battle over ownership.
That battle began in mid-2018 when developer Scott Pitcher won a default judgment in a civil suit against Broughton and his various LLCs. In that judgment, Pitcher’s Fortune Companies, Inc. was awarded $34,402.63 for work on Firestone that he was never paid. The judgment, however, never was garnered by Pitcher, according to a civil suit filed in April under Fortune Companies. So Pitcher headed back to court.
In April, Fortune Companies filed for a foreclosure lien on the Firestone Building in a bid to gain ownership of the property, citing the unpaid judgment.
But there are others with various financial interests in the building, according to the suit.
Kipcor was named in the suit as the last owner of Firestone. Then there’s Honge Wange, who appears to be an investor from California, who has a mortgage from Home Banc Center on the building from January 2014. Similarly, Wei Xi, of California, also is named due to a $50,000 mortgage from Home Banc Center in January 2014 as well. Another mortgage, according to the suit, was taken out on the property by Xi in August 2014. Fang Wong, also of California, is listed for a mortgage as well, this one from Home Banc Center in August 2014.
And the list continues, with JMC Property Group LLC, listed to Joey Kimbrough in Kokomo, also a party to the suit due to a mortgage from May 2015. There’s also Steve Hartwig for a mortgage from Home Banc Center in June 2015. Lafayette Bank and Trust also is listed in the suit for a mortgage from August 2015. Similarly, CL45MW Loan 1 LLC, listed out of Rochester, N.Y., is made a party to the suit by an assignment of mortgage from June 2018.
As the case proceeds, several of the parties named in the suit have filed cross-claims on the structure, and the ownership of the building appears to be up in the air. Pitcher acknowledged this.
“When I originally filed the lawsuit, we didn’t know if there would be counterclaims or not,” said Pitcher. “So we hoped to get paid. But now that the counterclaims are being filed, we’re almost positive we will not be paid.”
A request for comment to local attorney Alan Wilson, who represents Hartwig, Kipcor, JMC Property, and Lafayette Bank and Trust, was not returned. Neither was a call to attorney Sara Pitcher, who represents Rong, Wange, and Xi in the suit.