Missoula developer Cooney files for bankruptcy, faces lawsuit and foreclosures

2011-07-31T06:15:00Z 2011-07-31T09:30:31Z Missoula developer Cooney files for bankruptcy, faces lawsuit and foreclosuresBy GWEN FLORIO of the Missoulian missoulian.com
July 31, 2011 6:15 am  • 

Treasure State Bank isn't going to see the more than $500,000 Missoula developer Scott Cooney owes it anytime soon.

And Missoula Federal Credit Union can kiss at least $168,000 goodbye for the foreseeable future.

The nearly $60,000 in property taxes owed to Missoula County? Folks in the treasurer's office aren't holding their breath.

Cooney had big, big plans for his many Missoula County properties, and his bankruptcy filing this month leaves some big questions marks - with equally large dollar signs attached.

The filing, for now, freezes attempts by the two financial institutions to recoup money from Cooney and leaves the county in the lurch.

It also dashes hopes and dreams in Bonner, where Cooney represented himself as the way the town could come back from the body blow that was the 2008 shutdown of the Stimson Lumber Co. mill.

Over the years, Cooney bought (and then put up for sale) the old mill houses in Bonner and most of the mill equipment, tried - and failed - to buy the mill site itself, and floated a plan for a housing development on the mill's West Log Yard that raised some hackles because of its high-density design.

Just last month, Cooney's Montana Improvement Co. went to the Bonner/Milltown Community Council with a new plan for the log yard - a medical center and senior living "concept" supported by an unnamed "entity." That vague plan, too, likely is kaput.

"I feel pretty frustrated that we don't really know anything about what Scott is doing," said Gary Matson, a Community Council member who said Friday he spoke only for himself.

"Where do we go from here? I have no clue."

***

The Bonner mill houses were refurbished by Cooney's Blackfoot Land and Water company, and then rented out.

But unbeknownst to tenants, whose deposits totaling $20,000 went into Blackfoot's general account, Cooney was using the company as "his personal account and as the account for various of his other business entities," according to a lawsuit filed in October by the trustee for Blackfoot.

"Cooney did this to hide funds from his ex-wife," the suit said, alleging he ultimately withdrew nearly $561,000 - "and possibly substantially more than that." Probably as a result, it said, the company went bust.

Cooney did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

His vision for the mill houses likewise lies in limbo.

The iconic frame houses that line Montana Highway 200 on the north end of Bonner were restored on the east side of the road and nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. But those on the west side remain up on blocks - as part of Cooney's original plan to move them across the highway and refurbish them, too.

The west side houses are part of the mill site that's been up for sale again since Cooney's deal fell through two years ago.

The dilapidated houses remain a boarded-up eyesore, noticeably deteriorating.

"None of us like that," Matson said.

He fears a new buyer might say, " ‘This is a big mess,' and burn them all down. ... It would be a real waste to lose them."

That ill-fated deal is behind Cooney, though.

He's still facing foreclosures filed in March in Missoula County District Court by the two financial institutions.

In each case, Cooney put up undeveloped property in Missoula as collateral for promissory notes that he never paid back, according to the suits.

Missoula Federal Credit Union filed in March for the $168,032 still owed against a $300,000 promissory note in 2007. That property is in Grant Creek.

Treasure State Bank seeks to foreclose on land off Duncan Drive in order to recover at least $512,533.

***

Cooney Development's website still touts company projects such as the mill houses and log yard, housing and business developments in and around Missoula, and housing developments in Huson and St. Regis.

The planned Expressway Business Park, it says, "has a space for a coffee kiosk, cafe, offices, daycare and commercial outlets, as well as larger buildings for light industrial operations."

In Bonner, it says, "Scott would like to build a new postal service facility."

"Scott's had some great ideas and great ideas take money," said Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss. "That's his challenge."

The county commission appreciates Cooney's success in saving the mill houses, she said.

As to his other efforts, "the bankruptcy will hold things up," she said. "But sometimes bankruptcy helps a person get back on track."

Matson said Cooney's strength has always been his enthusiasm for reinvigorating Bonner.

"He's a person with lots of vision, lots of energy," said Matson. "I personally have always wished we had somebody with vision, energy and resources come to our community and help us do good things."

The court actions indicate that the "resources" part of the equation is lacking.

Now, said Matson, "It's just one uncertainty after another."

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com or on CopsAndCourts.com.

 

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