Sunday, November 02, 2014

Latest ROC E-Mails Leave Holes, Show Mayor's Office Driving Force Behind Eastgate Site

The Ballard administration recently turned over a bunch of e-mails and documents to the council's ROC Investigating Committee in response to a court order issued last July. I've perused most of the documents, but there still seems to be a lot of holes in the decision to place the Regional Operations Center at the Eastgate Consumer Mall site owned by Alex Carroll and two other business partners, Rich Banta and Marvin Slomowitz. The e-mails really don't provide any context for just how the decision focused so narrowly on the Eastgate site, suggesting that the administration is still only producing part of the documents. It also appears that former Pubic Safety Frank Straub had serious misgivings about the Eastgate site, which he eventually laid aside due to pressure coming from the Mayor's office.

A decision to place the ROC at Eastgate clearly had been reached as early as the summer of 2010 when funds were being identified for a space planning and engineering study of the site. DPS' general counsel, Jonathan Mayes, suggested in an e-mail dated July 26, 2010 that funds from either asset forfeiture or savings from a re-bidding of new cars could be used to cover $15,000 for a planning and engineering study. This came after the agency solicited proposals earlier in the month from Cripe and RQAW for the study. At that time, DPS officials were operating under the assumption that there would be federal participation in the project from the federal Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, which never materialized.

By end of September 2010, the Department was fielding a media inquiry about the selection of the Eastgate site. The Star's John Tuohy asked DPS Chief of Staff Carolin Requiz if a site had been chosen in a September 27, 2010 e-mail. Requiz sought confirmation from Straub: "The emergency operations center is going to eastgate right?". The following month, DPS' Homeland Security Director, Gary Coons, wrote in an e-mail to Straub and Requiz: "We are finally moving with Eastgate." "Thank you for allowing us to get the right people involved and get moving," Coons said in reference to a rezoning hearing for the property the following week. In an October 22, 2010 e-mail, Carroll wrote to Mayes that he "should have the lease by Monday morning at the very latest." It would be another six months after Carroll wrote that e-mail that the administration would submit a lease to the City-County Council for approval.

On December 16, 2010, Ballard's Chief of Staff, Chris Cotterill, sent an e-mail to Straub expressing concerns about a rumor the Mayor had heard. "Mayor heard rumor EOC won't be at Eastgate," Cotterill wrote. "Just writing to confirm there's no change in planning. Mayor wants it at Eastgate." Cotterill implored Straub to let him know whether there was anything to the rumor or it is baseless. "Unfortunately, it's not a rumor, Straub replied. "Two issues-one of the owners is under FBI investigation/indictment." He continued, "The FBI cannot move into it or be in the space because of the indictment. Second the owner has raised the lease per square feet rate by $5-6. Due to the size of the space being rented (30,000 to 40,000 sq. ft.), Straub said he was looking at alternative locations, including one in Councilor Jeff Cardwell's district.

Cotterill shot back to Straub that he needed to "hold on discussions of alternative locations until Mayor is fully briefed on these facts by you." He added, "With the facts that he has at the moment, he will not support alternatives and was caught off guard by this." While Cotterill acknowledged "the FBI indictment is probably a big problem," he downplayed it and said the rent is "always negotiable." Cotterill said he would let the Mayor know that Straub would withhold "further efforts" on an alternative location until his briefing with the Mayor the following day. The e-mails are not clear, but the FBI indictment likely referred to a raid of another project being undertaken by a company controlled by Slomowitz on behalf of the Army Corp of Engineers involving the dredging of the Delaware River. News reports indicated that the FBI had raided the Hazelton, Pennsylvania offices of a company owned by Slomowitz as part of an ongoing investigation in April, 2010. It does not appear that any indictments resulted from that investigation.

By February 2011, the Mayor's office was turning up the heat even more on Straub regarding the Eastgate site. "Mayor concerned about EOC not being at Eastgate," Cotterill wrote to Straub on February 2, 2011. "Perhaps during the trip to Texas (to the Super Bowl) you and he can talk a bit about this?" Cotterill continued, "He and [State Sen. Jim] Merritt still very much want it at first proposed site." "If it would be helpful, I can assist you/your team in getting a commercial real estate person to see if they can push—I offer that not knowing most of what efforts have transpired to date. In any event, I just want to make sure that if another site must be selected, the Mayor and Merritt are on the same page with you. Let me know how I can help you on this." Straub fired back that he wasn't going to Dallas because he expected his mother to die within the next day or two. In an exasperated tone, Straub said, "We are still pursuing Eastgate-however it all boils down to money and the property developer's ability to prepare the site in a way that makes sense for all concerned."   

Shortly thereafter, Straub complained in an e-mail to Mayes that "for whatever reason Eastgate is still being kept in play by the Mayor's office." In a February 4, 2011 e-mail, Straub said. "We need to resolve the EOC issue with much haste - we are now falling way behind schedule," Straub wrote before threatening to kill the project. "If we don't have the issue resolved by the end of next week I am going to make a decision to kill the project." He added, "We will then either stay where we are and enhance existing capability or move to Earsal's property or another facility." "Earsal's property" likely referred to property owned by the politically-connected Turkish immigrant businessman, Ersal Ozdemir, who has been the beneficiary of many crony deals with the Ballard administration.

Straub revealed for the first time that he did not expect any federal funding for the project, leaving the City with "few alternatives." Straub continued, "The City can certainly commit funding, however beyond useless rhetoric they have been absent from meaningful discussions." In a stinging rebuke of Mayor Ballard, Straub wrote, "My sense is public safety is no longer job 1" in reference to Ballard's 2007 campaign promise.

By the following week, Councilor Ben Hunter, who was pushing hard for the Eastgate site in his district, along with the neighboring council member, Mary Moriarty-Adams, expressed concern to Straub about not locating the ROC at Eastgate. "I know that your team is looking at that second site for the EOC, is there a sense that Eastgate is still the preferred location as discussed earlier, or is everything still contingent on funding?," Hunter asked. Seeming exhausted, Straub wrote, "As we have discussed ad nauseum-it is a funding issue." "There is no way to may [sic] this can move forward under the current fiscal arrangement as it would result in a significant shortfall (million dollar plus) in our character 3." Straub continued, "This shortfall will require a minimum of a million dollars every year going forward. "In this economic climate I don't think the project is feasible." Straub indicated that he was looking at an alternative site in Hunter's district on E. Washington Street. Hunter responded that he "had no issue with the decision," but that he was "getting hit with a lot of questions from constituents." He added, "Senator Merritt has also called me on this issue as well."

As we now know, Straub dropped his opposition to Eastgate and went along with it, although obviously reluctantly, a view not perceived up to now by those outside the process. Pettiness in discussing the matter continued. Ballard mayoral assistant John Cochran wrote to Mayes and Straub asking for information on how DPS planned to pay for the ROC lease. "I am unfamiliar with the entire issue and councillors have raised this issue to me," Cochran wrote on April 15, 2011. "Let's discuss this internally before sending to Cochran," Straub wrote to Mayes. "I don't see any reason to include him at all," Mayes wrote back to Straub. "My thoughts," Straub replied.

As it turned out, their plan to make the funding for Eastgate work was to cancel IMPD's East District lease and move it to Eastgate. "This move will help offset the cost of occupying Eastgate as we end the current lease for East District," Straub wrote to Deputy Mayor Mike Huber, who was concerned about the impact the decisions would have on the East side served by the Boner Community. Straub said he planned to move IFD's headquarters into School 97, which he said hinged on the sale of IFD headquarter's property on Mass Avenue. Of course, as we now know, the administration didn't sell IFD headquarters or move it to School 97. The City instead gave the entire block on which IFD's headquarters, Station 7 and the Firefighter's Credit Union sits to pay-to-play developers, along with several million dollars in cash for a parking garage, a bone-headed move that will wind up costing taxpayers at least $60 million. There were also aborted discussions of trying to make the area around Eastgate a TIF area to shore up the funding problem for the ROC, which Deron Kitner quickly shot down.

When James Taylor, executive director of the Boner Center learned of the plans to move the East District to Eastgate, he wrote to Straub to express his concerns about the move after Straub informed him of the decision in an e-mail dated April 27, 2011. Taylor complained that his organization had incurred over $600,000 in costs based upon assurances that the Eastgate lease would be renewed. He complained that Mayes had participated in meetings with his organization "every step of the way" and assured him the master lease was moving forward. Straub forwarded the lengthy e-mail from Taylor to Requiz, adding: "We have another mess created by Mayes!" Straub tried to reassure Taylor his plan still included moving IFD headquarters to School 97, which the Mayor's Office knew wasn't going to happen.

As of late September 2011, the idea of using School 97 was still alive. Mayoral assistant Kurt Fullbeck had sent an e-mail to Straub and Requiz suggesting a lease like the ROC lease for School 97. Straub wrote back that he was not sure what direction they were going. "My understanding was the proceeds from the sale of Mass Ave property would be used to offset the cost of leasing School 97," he wrote. "The idea being that it would be a cost neutral endeavor--which means no increased cost to DPS/IFD as we currently do not pay lease for the current location." He added, "So-in essence-I have no idea what they plan on doing." Indeed, he didn't know their ambitious plans for buying the Red Cross headquarters, paying an exorbitant relocation fee to the Red Cross, and spending a lot of money to build out the Red Cross space for a new IFD headquarters and building a new Station 7 at that same location.

What is now abundantly clear was there there was no urgency at all, and certainly no requirement that the City build a Regional Operations Center as a condition to hosting the Super Bowl, which is essentially how the costly plan was sold to the City-County Council by the administration. It is also clear from what information has been released to date that the blame for costly mistakes regarding the ROC rests entirely on the Mayor's Office and not Straub and the Department of Public Safety.

It should now be clear for all to see that the one-sided lease for the Eastgate property only happened because the Mayor's office insisted upon it happening. Straub clearly recognized that the Eastgate site posed significant current and ongoing funding problems which the Mayor's office intentionally chose to ignore. Ben Hunter was driven by campaign contributions and winning favor with his constituents in the East Gate neighborhood in pushing the deal so hard. He's also very close to U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks and her husband, David Brooks, who represented Carroll and wrote the one-sided, unconventional lease that so badly screwed over Indianapolis taxpayers. Sen. Merritt's excuse could only be his desire to put helping a friend win a multi-million dollar contract with the City above the taxpayers' interest.


Anonymous said...

At this point we don’t care what costs the city incurs at the Regional Operations Center. We just want the development of the property to resume, we want the “look” of the property to improve, and we want the neighborhood to realize some benefit from the deal. Right now the ROC looks like an abandoned factory. Drive up and down Shortridge. Its a mess. Unpainted. Unlandscaped. Unfinished. No signs of life. Neighboring businesses suffer from being in proximity to an eyesore. Where are all the employees of this Regional Operations Center? We don’t see cars, we don’t see people in the businesses. It just looks deserted most of the time. These enormous blocks of stone ring the property like a horrible, half-finished fence. They can’t even get the building completely painted white. It just looks like some foreclosed, vacant commercial property after all the signs have been removed. Just awful. Is this what the neighborhood was promised? No. They lied. From the day Bart Peterson stood at the site and announced the project. They said it would be beautiful, landscaped, full of people. A destination project, a repurposed building that would benefit the neighborhood. Many thought it should be razed and turned into a park. But they said this would be better. That a couple of thousand people would work here and they would need restaurants and dentists and groceries. All lies. I think Greg Ballard ought to be indicted for fraud. For perpetrating a fraud upon this neighborhood and everyone doing business in it. I feel personally lied to and…just deceived. And I think the “mayor” ought to come clean and stand out back on the Shortridge side of this derelict and tell us what is going to happen next. We have had enough BS. How about the truth. I’m quite serious when I say that Greg Ballard ought to be indicted for fraud. Because as an east sider I can tell you that I was lied to at every step.

Anonymous said...

Not only should that dishonest bloated rat Greg Ballard be indicted for fraud but so should long time long term Democrat hack Mary Moriarty Adams and Republican ego-freak Ben Hunter and David Brooks and Susan ("Mrs. David") Brooks.

This travesty shows us the City is run by cartoon characters motivated by self interest above all else.

No wonder Ryan Vaughn was moved out of the COS position to yet another high paying job... they want to try to keep him untainted by his own part in a corrupt administration so they can run him for office later.

Ballard is proved on hard copy in black and white to be an utter incompetent boob who has no business at the head of a City much less a Marine unit.

The old Eastgate Mall is an absolute eyesore and just another of Boob Ballard's great failures upon this City. Indianapolis east siders deserve far better than the dastardly political fleas they've been infested with.

Anonymous said...

This whole piece is a deposition..Shame on Susan Brooks, Ben Hunter...Hello contact they didn't know... and more...Karma

Flogger said...

I found the telling sentence in your blog to be: Shortly thereafter, Straub complained in an e-mail to Mayes that "for whatever reason Eastgate is still being kept in play by the Mayor's office." Straub seems to come out as a bit of a mushroom - Fed Sh-t and kept in the dark.

Given the amount of funding necessary to complete the ROC prudence would dictate at two other choices for a location other than Eastgate. Some how Straub is aware of "Ersal's" property.

It seems rather obvious Mayor Blowhole wanted to fit the square peg and to the round hole of Eastgate no matter what the cost to the tax payers.

Anonymous said...

This just might throw a wrench in mayoral hopeful Ben Hunter. Will Rep. Brooks support Ben's mayoral bid? The entire facility is unsightly and an eyesore. Shameful on so many levels.