Spurned of late by Wall Street, Angie's List has turned to Indianapolis taxpayers for an investment in the company's future.
A City-County Council panel on Monday will consider up to $18.3 million in public assistance that Angie's officials say is critical to the consumer rating service's planned expansion on the Near-Eastside.
Leaders in both parties say there's a lot to like in the proposal. Angie's promises to add 1,000 jobs, for starters. On top of that, it plans to relocate 800 more to its headquarters on East Washington Street, a run-down corridor that serves as a key gateway to Downtown. And it would transform the old Ford assembly plant back into the economic engine it once was.
In return, the city would spend $2 million on streets and other infrastructure work, plus as much as $16.3 million in tax-increment financing funds to build a parking garage and relocate an Indianapolis Public Schools warehouse from the Ford building.
But ironically for a company that makes its money off of consumer ratings, the biggest hang-up may be others' recent reviews of Angie's.
Since its founding in 1995, the company has never turned an annual profit, a red flag that until recently investors had largely been willing to overlook thanks to steady growth.
But against a backdrop of disappointing earnings, controversies and lawsuits, the company's stock price has plummeted over the last year and a half. It dropped to what was then a record low in July and continued to tumble, settling Thursday at $5.22 per share.
That's less than a third of the $15.80 the stock fetched at its initial public offering . . .Just four years ago, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mayor Greg Ballard announced more than $14 million in public assistance to Angie's List based on a promise to create 500 news jobs that never materialized. The company's CEO and co-founder, Bill Oesterle, formerly served as Daniels' campaign manager and has lavished large campaign contributions on the Republican Party and its candidates. While the company has racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in losses during its 20-year history, Oesterle and the company's name sake, Angie Hicks, have become multi-millionaires. Those old buildings the company bought on the near east side were purchased by a company controlled by Oesterle, who leased them for years at inflated prices to Angie's List before later selling them to the company at inflated prices with money Wall Street investors foolishly pumped into the company.
Imagine if Ponzi schemer Tim Durham had been able to use his political clout with state and local officials prior to the FBI's raid on his offices after potential investors began to sour on his businesses to get a multi-million dollar infusion of public tax dollars. It really is no different. Yet one City-County Councilor after another stumbles over one another to sing the praises of the company in defending their planned decision to invest money in the company Wall Street wouldn't invest, including Zach Adamson (D), John Barth (D) and Mike McQuillen (R). Until you start getting in the faces of these elected officials and making them fear for their political lives, they will continue to ignore you and your concerns and give away your public tax dollars to take care of the people who are stuffing campaign contributions in their pockets.
Democratic mayoral candidate Larry Vaughn wasn't too far off the mark when he told Indianapolis City-County Councilors at a recent meeting that Angie's List does little more than "sell bumper stickers with a syndication on the side." It's pretty sad when a guy they call crazy and laugh at when he speaks at council meetings makes more sense than the elected representatives we've entrusted to spend our tax dollars.
UPDATE: No vote tonight. Angie's List asked to continue consideration of its public subsidy until a February 23 meeting of the committee to allow it to gather more information regarding its plans.