UPDATED: The biggest proponent of the controversial downtown TIF district expansion along Mass Avenue has been City-County Councilor Vop Osili. By trade, Osili is an architectural engineer. He was a principal and co-founder of the A2SO4 firm
located at 300 S. Meridian Street in the Union Station building adjacent to the powerhouse architectural engineering firm, R.W. Armstong. A2SO4 is a certified minority business according to state records, which gets spin off work from government contracts that contain compulsory MBE requirement goals. Osili supposedly sold his interest in the firm to Sanford Garner
when he ran for Secretary of State. When asked by radio talk show host Amos Brown
whether he had a financial stake in the expansion of the downtown TIF district, Osili adamantly denied that he did. Osili replied with words to the effect, "I ain't got no nickel in that dime." His Linkedin listing
, however, still identifies him as an owner of the firm. Osili brokered an amendment to his proposal with the Ballard adminstration that will specifically benefit minority businesses
. More importantly, the financial disclosure form he filed this year
after becoming a councilor states that he received from A2SO4 compensation in excess of $5,000 in the previous year, which he identifies as his employer. Osili completed and signed his financial disclosure form on February 1, 2012.
According to the firm's website, A2SO4 is partnering with Ratio Architects on the Millikan on Mass Ave project adjacent to Barton Towers and directly across the street from the firehouse parcel in the 500 block of Mass Ave. A news announcement
on the firm's website reads:
The project, tentatively dubbed The Millikan on Mass Ave after an apartment building that once stood on the site, is being designed by Ratio Architects and A2SO4. Millikan on Mass Ave will be a $23 million residential and retail development planned for the land surrounding the Barton Tower apartments along Massachusetts Avenue between Michigan and East streets. The project is a partnership between Flaherty & Collins Properties and Insight Development Corp. It calls for a mix of 144 affordable and market-rate apartments and retail/restaurant space along Mass Ave.
That's not all. The Mass Ave TIF district expansion will reach over and include property two blocks east of Mass Avenue in the Lockerbie neighborhood where I reside. I attended a meeting of the Lockerbie People's Club neighborhood association where The Whitsett Group tendered its proposal to redevelop the vacant property bounded by Michigan and College. The design firm which presented the renderings for the Whitsett Group was none other than A2SO4. The presenters of this minority-owned firm at my neighborhood meeting were all white. Originally, the developer stated that it intended to utilize government housing credits to develop affordable apartments as part of the mixed use project. Later, the developer told the IBJ
it was moving forward with the project without the government tax credits. The same news was communicated to the neighborhood through the neighborhood newspaper, "The Urban Times." From the IBJ:
The developer of what was to have been a tax-credit-financed project in Lockerbie Square now intends to develop market-rate housing instead.
The Whitsett Group announced last summer that it would build 190 affordable and market-rate apartments and 44,000 square feet of retail and office space in three mid-rise buildings at the northwest corner of Michigan Street and College Avenue.
Whitsett was counting on selling state-issued affordable housing tax credits to finance the $27 million project, but it wasn’t among the projects awarded credits by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority earlier this year.
“We came up just a few points short,” said company principal Joseph E. Whitsett. “But we own [the land] and we are going to develop it.”
Whitsett said his company anticipates breaking ground next spring on essentially the same project, minus the affordable housing component. By that time it should be the second market-rate project for Whitsett, which up to now has focused on affordable housing.
Interestingly, A2SO4 is renovating the old church facing North Street, which is just north of the vacant property that The Whitsett Group is developing, as its new offices. That parcel is included in the expanded TIF district as well. According to A2SO4's website, the firm was also architect on the recently completed Trail Side project
at the north end of Mass Ave. The original TIF expansion included this property as well, even though work on it had already been completed. It sits across the street from the Coca-Cola building the Ballard administration has included it in the TIF for redevelopment once IPS' transportation center is relocated. TIF money is to be used to relocate the transportation center.
At tonight's committee hearing, Deputy Mayor for eoncomic development Deron Kintner told committee members that this parcel was included in the Mass Ave TIF expansion plan because develpment of this parcel was contingent upon the pending development plans for the firehouse property two blocks away. Either Kintner is a liar, or Joe Whitsett is a liar. Whitsett said nothing about his development plans for the property in my neighborhood being contingent upon the expansion of the downtown TIF district, or more specifically, the development of the firehouse property on Mass Avenue. My neighborhood includes some of the highest assessed residential property on a square foot basis in the state of Indiana. We don't need your public tax dollars to make development occur in our area. Don't believe their lies.
The Ballard administration has already secretly decided upon a development plan for the firehouse property, but it refuses to release that development plan to the public and explain how much and who is going to get public tax dollars for their private development projects. Kintner repeatedly lied, claiming that this parcel could not be redeveloped without a TIF district. He knows damn good and well that there are developers out there who would gladly purchase that parcel on the open market and redevelop it without a dime of taxpayer dollars. I've also learned that Simon Property Group is willing to develop the IPS transportation center/Coca-Cola building into a new shopping area that would be anchored by a Whole Foods. This is nothing but crony capitalism of the worst order that is putting this city on the fastrack towards bankruptcy. These TIF districts are depleting much-needed property tax revenues for funding basic city services. IPS is broke. The library district complains that it lacks adequate funding. Police and fire budgets are being cut, while crime skyrockets. We don't even know where they plan to move the firehouse, which is needed in the heavily and growing downtown populated area that includes tall skyscrapers and government installations that are a prime target for terrorist attacks.
The taxpayers need to demand an immediate investigation of what is really behind the expansion of this TIF district. I assure you that you will uncover all kinds of self-serving, insider deals that have been transacted behind closed doors to force this TIF expansion project through the City-County Council to line the pockets of the pay-to-play contractors and developers who own our elected officials. The Indianapolis City-County Council and Mayor Ballard do not represent you. They represent the corrupt fat cats who bankroll their campaigns. It's government at its worst. Everyone who testified at tonight's committee hearing in favor of this proposal has a financial stake in its approval. The only resident of Lockerbie who testified in favor of tonight's project, Fred Hash, makes his living off doing these deals. At least he disclosed his interest. That's more than I can say for my councilor, Vop Osili. It's time that he provides full disclosure about his past and current relationship with A2SO4 and how it stands to benefit from the TIF expansion he is proposing. You don't matter. Only the people making money off the government's ability to pick winners and losers matter. The taxpayers are always the losers. They're always the winners.