Monday, October 27, 2014

Westfield Mayor Lied: Privately-Built Sports Arena Actually Being Paid With Public Tax Dollars

Westfield Mayor Andy Cook makes comments to the hundreds of people that turned out for the grand opening ceremony for Westfield's Grand Park, which, when finished, will be the country's largest multipurpose youth sports complex, on Saturday, June 21, 2014. The three-day celebration that began on Friday includes live music, a Ferris wheel, food and fireworks, and of course a youth sports tournament. The facility has 31 multi-use soccer/football fields and 26 baseball/softball diamonds throughout 400 acres.
Mayor Andy Cook at Grand Park's opening ceremony (Charles Nye/Star Photo)
Last summer, Westfield Mayor Andy Cook announced that the City's new Grand Park had attracted $20 million in private investment from Holladay Properties, which plans to build an indoor arena containing at least three soccer fields. Four months later, the plan is going before Westfield's city council for approval, and the project has grown to a $25 million project. Oh, and by the way, it's really not a privately-financed project as advertised by Mayor Cook because taxpayers are going to become the tenant and be on the hook to repay all debt payments due on the facility, which means the once privately-funded $20 million project has ballooned into a $53 million publicly-financed project. Mayor Cook now says he never misled anyone about the project, and the city council has fast-tracked the proposal for approval at tonight's council meeting before its residents can absorb what they're being asked to swallow. Here's a snippet of Chris Sikich's story in today's Star:
. . . On Monday, the City Council will consider the result of those ongoing negotiations: a proposal to pay nearly $53 million, with interest, over the next 25 years to lease the arena from that developer, Holladay Properties.
The city would use money collected from sports organizations and businesses that operate in the building. Ultimately, though, general city revenues — taxpayer dollars — would back the loan used to build the arena if those payments run short.
The city also has negotiated an option to buy the building outright after it opens in fall 2015. Cook said it's in the best interest of the city to control the cash flow and scheduling at the arena.
Cook told The Indianapolis Star on Thursday he was factually correct when he made the announcement in June. The facility will be built by a private developer. And revenue generated from the arena, he believes, will more than pay back the construction loan.
Cook believes adding the indoor arena will bring year-round activity to Grand Park that will foster economic development and grow the tax base.
"People should be saying, 'Hey, this is a great deal,' " Cook said. "I know everybody is going to question no matter what we do. There are people who don't support Grand Park at all. I get it."
The mayor's critics say the deal raises more questions about the viability of Grand Park as an economic engine for Westfield — and puts taxpayers on the hook for a sports arena.
"I thought this was a privately funded development," said former Councilman Ron Thomas. "But really, you're more than doubling the cost of the park." . . .
Here's an even bigger question than the public-funding aspect of this proposal. What this project has become is a public-private partnership agreement by any other name pretty much like what the City of Indianapolis is undertaking for its proposed new criminal justice center. The problem is that the City of Westfield never followed the public notice and public bidding requirements through a Request for Proposals ("RFP") process for a "build, operate and transfer agreement" that it is undertaking as is required under state law. If it had, city taxpayers would have known before now that they were on the hook to pay for this arena and would ultimately wind up owning it, and Mayor Cook would not have been able to engage in crony capitalism at its worst by sole-sourcing the project to Holladay Properties. Someone should be filing a lawsuit post-haste seeking to block the project because Mayor Cook's administration violated state law.

Equally as concerning is the ability of a municipal government to once again skirt the referendum process enacted as part of the state's property tax reforms in 2008. Controlled projects costing above a certain dollar threshold are subject to a public referendum process if property taxes can be levied to pay for a project. Here, the City is pledging revenues it says the project will generate from private businesses and sports organizations that operate within the arena; however, if those revenues prove inadequate, which I'm guessing is quite likely in this case, the City will be required to turn to other taxes like property taxes to fulfill its legal obligations under the lease agreement with Holladay Properties. This is just another example of why the state legislature needs to revisit the property reform law it passed in 2008. We have the City of Indianapolis planning to skirt the referendum requirement for at least a half billion dollar project, and the Indianapolis Public Library planning to issue close to $60 million in bonds for construction projects, which it plans to do without seeking property taxpayers approval by breaking it up into multiple bond projects. Now we have a municipality committing $53 million in public funds for a new sports arena, which ultimately puts the city's property taxpayers on the hook to repay. Clearly, our local elected officials cannot be trusted when matters of public finance are concerned.

UPDATE: The council approved the deal tonight on a 6-1 vote. Efforts to delay the vote for two weeks were met with warnings that the entire project could be jeopardized or at least delayed for many months if approval was not given tonight. That's short-hand for rushing the deal through before the public has time to figure out just how badly their corrupt elected officials have screwed them over.

Just saw a copy of the 25-year lease agreement. Holladay Properties is represented by Ice Miller, which is the same law firm that negotiated the privatization of the Lawrence Water Company in direct violation of the Public-Private Agreements Act. A court later ruled that the City of Lawrence had illegally entered into the agreement with cronies of former Mayor Tom Schneider because it failed to follow the RFP process set out in the Act. Here are some other points I would highlight:

  • The lease cannot be terminated by the city. The city is representing to Holladay Properties that it has "irrevocably pledged legally available revenues in order to satisfy its obligations under this Lease." Shades of Indianapolis' ROC lease? Typically, a lease of real estate by a governmental entity must include a provision that its continuance is based on the availability of appropriated funds. Not this lease agreement. The actions of this city council ties the hands of future councils for the next 25 years. This is effectively a purchase agreement as well. The City owns the property and improvements thereon at the end of the 25-year lease regardless of whether it exercises its option to purchase the property sooner. 
  • The City is liable for all claims arising from the use of the property and must indemnify and hold the landlord harmless from any claims arising under the lease.
  • All repairs/maintenance/utility/insurance/landscaping, snow removal, etc. expenses are entirely the City's responsibility.
  • The lease agreement assumes property taxes will be paid on the property and improvements. Yes, the City is responsible for paying the property taxes.
  • The base lease payments start at $1.97 million per year and grow to $2.27 million by the last five years of the lease. The annual lease payments are subject to increases if the interest rate paid by the landlord to finance construction of the project increases. The net increase must offset any higher costs paid by the landlord.
  • The additional rent includes all of the extra expenses for property taxes, repair/maintenance, utilities, management fees, insurance, etc. I suspect the city council members voting to approve this deal have no idea what those additional costs will be. I'm not sure what the management fee could be since the city is totally responsible for the property.
  • All change orders after construction commences that raise the cost of the projects will be paid out of the city's pocket, not the landlord's. 
  • I never heard how much money was paid to Craig Wood's family for the land. I'll bet  anything the amount was grossly inflated.
  • Is the City going to manage the property itself, or is it going to pay an additional management fee to Holladay Properties or some other company to manage it? Property management fees can be substantial. It seems like that would have been openly discussed but apparently was a matter of no concern to clueless members of the city council.
Again, only an extremely corrupt politician who is on the take would have inked this deal the city council approved tonight. The Westfield taxpayers deserve the royal screwing they're going to get as a result of this deal because of their utter failure to hold their public officials' feet to the fire. One particular council member by the name of Chuck Lehman gets the dumbest public official award of the year. The Star's Chris Sikich quotes Lehman as saying, "Taxpayer money could be at risk, but the bigger risk is doing nothing." Also, according to Sikich, J. Murray Clark, Jr. a potential candidate for Indianapolis mayor, testified in support of the deal. Clark represents the Turkish immigrant businessman, Ersal Ozdemir, in his corrupt efforts to get the politicians to finance construction of a new $90 million soccer stadium for his Indy Eleven team in downtown Indianapolis. He promises to return to the State House this next session to secure state financing for the deal. Perhaps by that time he will have bought off enough politicians to get it across the finish line. 


Anonymous said...

Mayors lie.

City Councils are culpable
enablers to the lies.

"Public-private partnerships" (P3) are in reality projects for the rich financed by the lowly taxpayer.

What a surprise.

Pete Boggs said...

Public-private is a term of half-pregnant logic; a tyrannic partnership of crony socialism, operating in a criminally opaque environment of non-disclosure.

David Sullivan said...

Amen again!

Anonymous said...

"Someone should be filing a lawsuit post-haste seeking to block the project because Mayor Cook's administration violated state law."


In what Indiana court? What Indiana attorney would be dumb enough to take the case?

From "Shooter"

What exactly happened in Africa?

Somehow the villagers didn't think that an oil pipeline was a good enough reason to move their village to a place where the spirit gods didn't exist.


So they asked them all nicely to move

And when they didn't,
they just killed them all?


They didn't ask.

They just killed them.

So the next village
won't need to be asked.

They'll just go.

Start watching at 22 seconds.

In Indiana, the next attorney doesn't need to be told. He just won't file a case, and he won't intrude where the power boys are playing ball.

Every so often, an Indiana attorney is dumb enough to forget his place, and Senator Charles Meacham has to say this:

"It appears we misjudged
the attorney.

There's always a confused soul that thinks that one man can make a difference.

And you have to kill him to convince him otherwise.

That's the hassle with democracy."

Every Indiana attorney knows better than to meddle in this case, and that's the true crime of power. They kill cases that are never filed, and they get their way without ever lifting a finger.

Power is in the court before the deal was made or you even thought about filing your case.

Anonymous said...

The Cook family trucking business has experienced a lot of financial problems in the past. I wonder if those problems magically went away. Ponder it all.

Anonymous said...

“It’s an unfunded liability,” Westfield resident Jeff Harpe said during a 54-minute public hearing before Monday’s vote. “It’s funded by hope—hope people come, hope developers come.”

Kind of reminds me of the Bad Santa quote - wish in one hand, and s#1t in the other and see which one fills up first.

Anonymous said...

Look into the identity of Tradewind's trucking customers. Follow the money.

Flogger said...

I have to wonder why the Tea Party is sooo silent concerning all these schemes going on in Hamilton County. It is a Republican stronghold. The Democrats are not going to be elected in Hamilton County, even if they opposed the scheme. The Democrats any way are a part of the Republicrat Party in any case.

"This facility was never going to happen without the city's participation," Burtron said. "There have been three other attempts of people from the private sector approaching us, and saying, 'hey, we want to do this, but we need your help.' "

Translation - Private Industry Sector and the Capitalists knew this scheme was a money loser. Thus Crony-Capitalism to the rescue, socialize the costs privatize the Profits.

Burtron words will be a template when Murray Clark makes his pitch for Ersal Ozdemir new stadium to the State Legislature.