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Mansion escrow snagged

POSTED January 8, 2013 5:14 p.m.
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The wait continues.

City officials are holding their breath in their short sale quest to secure the title for the historic Clinton Whitmore Mansion.

Escrow was supposed to close on Dec. 14, putting the 1903 home in the city's possession, but a last-minute snag with a junior lienholder has caused the Bank of America to delay matters.

"I don't know what's going to happen," said City Attorney Michael Lyions, who said the closing date is now set for Jan. 15.

Robert and Edna Whitmore, who lived in the sprawling mansion from the 1980s up until they sold it in 2006 to Cary and Nancy Pope, are listed as junior lienholders on the title. In a short sale, the Whitmores and a third junior lienholder lose all of their interest in the property since Bank of America holds a $800,000 note against the property. The Whitmores, said Lyions, have a second loan of $350,000 while a third junior lienholder, Angelo's Market Properties, has a $75,000 interest. A variety of liens are also placed on the property.

In a closed session held last week the Ceres City Council considered a request by the Whitmores to come up with more city cash so they will not come up short handed. The request was turned down, said Lyions.

"He is looking for money somewhere from somebody," said Lyions. "The council did not authorize additional funds to be spent."

The city attorney said that while the holder of the first deed of trust, the bank, holds most of the control, the junior lienholder could spoil the sale to the sale if they do not consent to the short sale. But Lyions said there is no indication the Whitmores would do that. If the short sale does not take place, Lyions believes that Bank of America will dispose of the property through an auction on the courthouse steps. The city could always bid on the house then, but he said the city could face potential competitors.

In October the city and BofA agreed to transact the mansion and 2.47 acres of land for a short sale price of $475,300. The acquisition would be covered by $194,500 taken from the Neighborhood Park Fees Fund and $285,500 from the Planned Community Facilities Fund.

If it becomes the owner, the city plans to turn over the operation of the mansion - which is not rented out for parties, weddings and community events - to the Whitmore Mansion Foundation.

The mansion is not without a laundry list of desired remodeling needs. The city has identified the mansion needs $605,000 in complete improvements, including:

• $40,000 in kitchen upgrades;

• $50,000 for an exterior restroom,

• $50,000 worth of ADA access improvements;

• $10,000 in plumbing needs;

• $30,000 in electrical work;

• $35,000 in painting;

• Sprinkler improvements worth $20,000;

• $35,000 to heating and air conditioning upgrades;

• $60,000 for a fire sprinkler system and connect to city water;

• $250,000 for a new parking lot.

City officials say the city cannot afford to operate nor maintain the facility but is interested in leasing the facility to the Whitmore Mansion Foundation to oversee operations. The group would possibly contract operation to a vendor. Lisa Mantarro Moore, chair of the Whitmore Mansion Foundation, said the Popes appear to be interested in operating the facility as vendors of the center.

The Foundation is a 503C non-profit organization.

Owners of the 1903 mansion - considered the gem of downtown Ceres - encountered financial struggles in keeping up with mortgage payments. The recession has impacted income from rentals for weddings and private functions.

Cary Pope, who defaulted on his loan for the mansion with wife Nancy, approached the Ceres City Council last year to ask for city participation to keep the property out of foreclosure. Pope originally asked the city to buy an undeveloped portion of the mansion property for a future park site until he received word about a private investor's interest in the property. The investor did not follow through, thus Pope returned to the council in May.

The 8,000-square-foot mansion was built in 1903 by Clinton Whitmore, son of town founder Daniel Whitmore.

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