Property Records Reveal Gibson Family Holdings

Property records obtained through the Lorain County Auditor’s office reveal that the Gibson family, who recently won a $25 million judgement in the lawsuit they filed against Oberlin College and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, own property within Oberlin city limits worth approximately $1.7 million, a sum figure not previously discussed in the media. The value assessments are calculated by the auditor’s office using tax information and in-person assessments. The figure does not include properties owned outside of Oberlin or controlled through Off Street Parking, Inc. — a corporation in which David Gibson owns a majority stake.

While the Gibson family’s property ownership was not a key element of the trial that concluded this past June, the topic was raised by attorneys representing the College and Raimondo, largely to call into question the degree to which the Gibson family was harmed financially by the student boycott against Gibson’s Bakery.

David Gibson, bakery owner, felt that the focus on his family’s property was misplaced and disingenuous.

“I saw the statements when [representatives of Oberlin College] smear[ed] our brand, they talked about [how] the Gibsons have many properties that are key properties in town,” Gibson testified on May 21, 2019. “We have properties downtown that [are] the last block of properties that … are independently owned and surrounding college campus.”

Gibson also alleged that the College was engaged in efforts to push out local business owners and assume control of downtown properties, including those owned by the Gibson family. This claim was denied in court by President Carmen Twillie Ambar.

However, property records reveal that David Gibson and his father, Allyn Gibson, own several residential properties outside downtown Oberlin, including two multi-unit rental residential properties. Those two properties are estimated to be worth nearly $900,000 in total, representing more than half of the value of the combined property owned by both men.

According to Fred Westbrook, chief appraiser for the Lorain County Auditor’s office, his office assesses the market value of all properties in the county every six years.

“We do that by visiting each property, hopefully speaking with an owner or a tenant,” Westbrook said. “We try to get the physical characteristics and the amenities of the property … that information is then compiled and brought in.”

The auditor’s office conducted their most recent assessment in 2018, according to Lorain County Auditor Craig Snodgrass. During this appraisal, office representatives visited all 166,000 parcels registered in the county, about 141,000 of which are residential, Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass added that, for both residential and commercial properties that are rented out by their owners — as is the case for several properties owned by the Gibsons — rental revenue is accounted for in the calculation of market value.

“They are handled a bit differently if they are income-producing properties,” Snodgrass said. “We look at market rents, and we try to gather as much of that as we can. Hopefully, [with] the property itself, we’ve had an opportunity to talk to those people to get their particular information on that property. But sometimes [we’re] unable to do so.”

In the event that contact with the property owners cannot be established, Westbrook says that appraisers use local data to estimate rental revenue.

“We do cull the other data that we have been able to accumulate and [make] a judgement as to, based on those characteristics, what the rental property could run for,” he said. “We do use that to help determine what the value would be.”

Despite the vast number of properties that the auditor’s office is required to appraise, Westbrook is generally confident in the office’s assessments.

“We are not correct on everyone, obviously,” he said. “But, just to give you an example, out of 166,000 parcels, we only had questions on a little more than 4,000, which is about a quarter of one percent.”

“When we look at those properties that have sold prior to our valuation and our valuation results, they’re generally fairly close,” he continued. “We always strive to get … somewhere around 94 to 95 percent of market value.”

Krista Long, who owns downtown business Ben Franklin & MindFair Books, says that the ability of a business owner to also own their property creates valuable opportunities.

“[You’re] paying rent to [yourself] … so to the extent that I’m not paying [rent] out to someone else, it clearly benefits the business owner to own that property,” Long, who does not own the building or land that Ben Franklin occupies, said. “Plus, you’re building equity throughout the course of your ownership of the business to the point where, when you’re prepared to sell, [you’re] selling actual real property as opposed to a business which has so many intangibles that it’s difficult to ascertain the value.”

In addition to the $1.7 million in property owned by Allyn and David Gibson, David Gibson also recently acquired a majority interest in Off Street Parking, Inc., a collection of parking spots located behind several downtown businesses. Gibson paid approximately $170,000 for his controlling share in 2016, according to trial transcripts.

According to the auditor office’s records, the 17 parcels controlled by Off Street Parking, Ink. are worth in excess of $400,000 in total market value. These parcels were discussed at length in court this past May, with attorneys representing Gibson’s alleging that the College had an interest in removing control of the parking spaces from the Gibson family.

David Gibson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.