Photo courtesy of realtor.com
Colonia, Yap – The Yapese Association of Guam is celebrating the recent purchase of property in Ordot-Chalan Pago for a community center and other potential development to serve the approximately 500 Yapese citizens residing in the U.S. territory.
The purchase price was $600,000 with another $6,455.75 in closing costs and the payment was made on Sept. 15. Annual property taxes are currently $991.
The property consists of three adjoining plots with a total area of 13,000 square meters, or more than three acres, with a two-story building on one of the lots. The original property owners were not disclosed. Located in Chalan Kanton Tasi, the state of Yap acquired the property from NDG Asia Pacific Guam.
It took seven years for the association’s request to become a reality.
Nearly 100 members of the association first met with the state’s two congressmen, Joseph Urusemal and Issac Figir, in December 2013. Among the topics of discussion during the six-hour gathering was the group’s request to build a community center on a small plot of undeveloped land identified by the association’s leadership.
The congressmen were successful in appropriating $750,000 for the project. The Yap governor was the allottee and the state’s Office of Planning and Budget was designated as the sub-allottee to oversee the project.
But time went on and successive administrations of the state government did little with the allotment.
When Gov. Henry Falan came into office in January 2019, a working group was formed to move the project forward.
Gabriel Ramoloilug, the newly appointed director of the Office of Administrative Services, “kindly accepted the leadership role and began researching the project,” said Falan.
“I truly understand the need to have a center like this for our citizens in Guam,” Falan added. “As the main port of entry to Yap for citizens passing through for medical treatment in Manila, Guam or Hawaii, or on business or matters of state, as well as the need for a central location for conferences and meetings, or just social events, this center will be very beneficial for our people.”
Ramoloilug noted the challenges of completing project “because we didn’t understand how to purchase a property in Guam, nor did we know the requirements which involved a lot of unknown variables, including recurring costs and many others.”
From the standpoint of the government’s purchase of property, Ramoloilug added, “we know generally what’s required and what the auditors would want to see.” However, he noted, this type of transaction was new to the members of the working group and others within the government who were involved.
Added to that complexity was the lack of documentation and details other than a photo of the original lot. There was no inspection report or agreement of any kind on file.
A request for payment arrived on Ramoloilug’s desk from OPB. “I saw that it lacked a lot of documentation and posed a high risk of becoming an audit finding that questioned the cost,” he said.
With the payment having to go through the FSM national government, he knew it would not be accepted and thus denied the payment request. It was then that the project was shifted to Ramoloilug to oversee.
Edwin K.W. Ching, a Guam-based real estate attorney from Hawaii, was introduced to the association’s leaders by a Yapese businessman who is also from Hawaii.
Upon hearing about the project, Ching caught the next flight to Yap, “at his own expense,” Falan noted.
There he met with Falan and the members of the working group to learn firsthand what was needed. Ching paid his own expenses while in Yap and insisted on providing his services pro bono.
“We cannot thank Mr. Ching enough for his sound advice and counsel during the entire process,” Ramoloilug said. “He went above and beyond in helping us sort out what we needed to do in order to bring this project to fruition.”
At the recommendation of Ching, who was familiar with the original property and its owner, the association leadership decided to forego the undeveloped lot and search for another more suitable one with easy road access and water and electricity lines already installed.
Ching helped with the search and identified three adjoining plots with a total area of 13,000 square meters, or more than three acres, with a two-story building on one of the lots.
The building inspection confirmed that it needed some repair but generally it was in good condition. The building has five bedrooms and two bathrooms which will provide room for meetings. Two of the lots are zoned for residential use and the third is zoned for commercial use.
The working group learned that the state’s leadership knew about the acquisition but no one seemed clear about what the usage was going to be.
Research seemed to point to the consideration of a building that was first considered by the association members for use by patients traveling to Guam or Manila for treatment who could use it as a place to stay.
But Ramoloilug said, “we moved it further to define the intent to move the target from a building to a property.”
It was now beginning to take shape as a potential revenue-generating endeavor for the state.
The association, which is in the process of filing an application for non-profit status, is responsible for all recurring costs including property taxes, insurance, water, sewer and electricity. They will also potentially be responsible for the development of the land, but it is not yet confirmed how the land will be developed, the cost of construction and where the funding will come from.
“We are looking to Palau to learn from them because they have three community centers in Guam,” noted Ramoloilug.
The association plans to begin a fundraising campaign when its nonprofit status is finalized to support future development of the land. The process is taking longer than usual due the slowdown caused by the pandemic that has hit Guam in recent months.
For the remaining $143,500.00, the association is proposing putting up a fence around the property and other immediate improvements. All expenses associated with the allotment must be approved by the state and all requisitions must go through that state’s finance department and through FSM’s national finance department. The appropriation has been extended to the end of 2021 by the FSM Congress.
“This marks a very big accomplishment for the state. It was a very complicated transaction and I want to thank Director Ramoloilug and the working group for the hard work they put in to make it a reality at long last,” said Falan. “My objective was to conclude the deal while making sure we don’t commit the state government to pay the recurring costs. That we did. But as for the potential economic and social benefits, that’s a different conversation.
“There was no plan for the use of the property when I came into office,” he added. “We want to get something out of it. We will, of course, talk with the officers of the Yapese Association of Guam to discuss and share our thoughts and theirs."
One of the possibilities, the governor said, is to open an economic development office in Guam, or put up an apartment building on the property.
"We don’t have a plan yet but we were able to conclude the deal and that was a huge achievement, in my opinion. Now we will focus our attention on what can be done with the property and what will be best for the citizens of Yap,” Falan said.