The Longaberger Basket Building, the Newark, OH, office structure built to resemble a giant picnic basket, is heading to foreclosure if the home goods company does not pay more than $600,000 in back property taxes.
Olivia Parkinson, the Licking County treasurer, tells realtor.com® that the county recently sent a letter informing Longaberger that it is referring the property for tax foreclosure. The company, which hasn’t made a tax payment since November 2014, owes $605,219.12.
In order to halt foreclosure proceedings and an eventual property auction, the company must pay the bill in full within two weeks, Parkinson says.
The one-of-a-kind property has lingered on the market for 18 months. Brenton Baker, a spokesman for the Longaberger Company, says serious negotiations are underway with “several entities” who’d like to pack their employees into the basket building.
The basket backstory
It’s been tough to find a buyer for the 180,000-square-foot building in a suburb of Columbus. The basket landed on the market for $7.5 million about a year and a half ago, and the price has since been slashed to $5 million. The current asking price works out to about $27 per square foot, roughly half of what area office space—that doesn’t look like bologna sandwich storage—typically commands.
“It’s a very unique property, and I don’t know that there are a lot of basket-related businesses out there,” says Baker. “The inside is a very nice, high-end office space. But the outside does present certain challenges.”
Longaberger, which sells baskets through a national network of Tupperware-style home consultants and is now owned by JRJR Networks, completed the office building in 1997 at a cost of approximately $32 million. It was the brainchild and dream project of the company’s founder, Dave Longaberger, who wanted his headquarters to mimic his best-selling basket.
Initially, the project’s architects thought he was speaking conceptually. But after the third failed design, Longaberger grabbed one of his baskets, slammed it on the table, and said, “Make it look exactly like this.”
And so they did, handles and all.
The exterior consists of stucco-covered framed metal set in a basket weave pattern. Two 75-ton handles heated to prevent ice from forming grace the top of the basket, and two 725-pound gold leaf Longaberger tags adorn the sides. The interior contains a 30,000-square-foot atrium and a 142-seat auditorium, where employees used to gather for movie night.
“It was a great home for us for many, many years,” says Baker, who’s worked for the company for 25 years. The final employees emptied out of the basket in July.
It also was a tourist destination. TripAdvisor, which calls the building “World’s Largest Basket,” ranks it No. 6 out of 19 things to do if you happen to be in Newark. The Dawes Arboretum is No. 1.
“It did bring people to the area when it was new,” says Jennifer McDonald, vice president of Licking County Chamber of Commerce, which includes Newark businesses. “They’d make a stop because of the size of the building and the photo opportunity.”
Unpacking the basket’s fate
But after Dave Longaberger died in 1999, tastes in home décor changed and sales slumped. The company’s revenue shrank from $1 billion in sales in 2000 to about $100 million in 2014. In fall 2014, the company was nipping away at the back taxes it owed, paying $10,000 per week for eight weeks, says Parkinson. But the payments stopped in November 2014.
Those delinquent taxes are “the scary part” for prospective buyers, says McDonald. “Heating and cooling costs must be phenomenal. Plus, it looks like a basket.” A basket in need of a paint job, according to a TripAdvisor comment posted in August.
“Being a Newark resident, I have to say that this has become one of the largest eyesores in our area,” the comment said. “The exterior condition of the ‘big basket’ is not good. It needs to be cleaned and painted. … Empty overgrown parking lot, brass Longaberger label that needs polished, handles need repainted. Tear it down!”
To make it look less basket-ish, the handles can be removed, says listing agent Michael Guagenti of Cushman & Wakefield.
“I’m sure a good architect could come up with some paint scheme to make it look not like a basket,” Guagenti told Bloomberg. Guagenti has explored marketing the property as a nursing home or call center.
McDonald says she could envision the basket building being transformed into a hotel with, perhaps, top floor lofts. There’s also been talk of turning the basket into a convention center.
However, a group of fans and Longaberger employees are trying to gain National Registry status for the building. Jim Klein, a former Longaberger Company president, started a Facebook page—Preserving the Longaberger “Big Basket” as a National Treasure—which now has 1,900 supporters.
Klein says the Big Basket “represents the ‘Gateway to our great American Craft Tradition.’” He recently posted a letter he had written to the American Institute of Architects in Washington, DC, suggesting that the building become an architectural school or laboratory.
Baker, for his part, is glad to be out of the basket building. The last of the Longaberger employees recently resettled in the company’s combined headquarters and manufacturing facility in nearby Frazeysburg.
“There were 50 people working in a building that can hold 500,” says Baker. “That’s not a fun feeling. Now, I’m close to everyone. I can talk to the basket makers.”
(We reached out to Longaberger and JRJR spokesmen for comment on the impending foreclosure, but they haven’t responded.)
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