the ash pit
RIVERFRONT DEVELOPMENT – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE REALITY: The current Administration is pushing Riverfront Development and have been since 2007.  Once the Legacy Funds hit the scene, it was full steam ahead. This project is definitely exciting—of course, it would be even more exciting with parasails being pulled behind speedboats. (Hey, I can dream with the best of ‘em…LOL!) But as exciting as this project is, it presents lots of problems: (1) homeless relocation, (2) building in a flood plain -- hey, what business is going to want to locate a business in an area that floods? Insurance rates will be high for starters. (3) The City has a federal mandate to build the sewage tunnel which was likely underbid and will likely have cost overages. Money being diverted to riverfront development is being diverted away from the EPA required sewage tunnel. (4) This phase of "downtown development" will be funded in part by Legacy Funds, probably some state and federal grants, but mostly from taxpayer dollars, including the Food & Beverage Tax. (5) The environmental condition of the old Omni Source property—remember how the City/Mayor spent some $20,000 to $25,000 to the Rifkin family for the option on that property (or was that the amount the Rifkin family paid to underwrite one of the Mayor’s campaigns??)---which will require a clean-up. And really, I could go on, but I won’t.
The reason I won’t is because we need a reality check here.
All the media blitz surrounded Riverfront development is to distract us from two troubling trends:
(1) Tim Ash (of Ash Brokerage) and Eric Doden (of Indiana Economic Development Commissions) dual involvement in the Ash “Cash & Slash” Brokerage project---now being called not-so-affectionately by some residents as “The Money Pit”—and Cityscape Flats. Now, let’s look a bit more closely at this. For the past two years, circa 2013, the City has been publically parading the Ash Brokerage project around as the latest jewel in Downtown Development with its multiple developers—one for the residential side (formerly Hanning & Bean), one for its commercial side (Ash Brokerage), and one for the multistory garage (City of Fort Wayne). The project will cost some $100 million, give or take a few million here and there. Delays could have caused a significant rise in cost—so significant that Hanning & Bean pull out.
Meanwhile, the City, Ash Brokerage, and Eric Doden are working on two other major “economic development” projects: World Baseball Academy ($1+ Million from Legacy—which bypassed the Legacy Review Committee compliments of two City Councilman) and Cityscape Flats (a housing project that would have competed in scope with Hanning & Bean’s residential component).  (For those who don’t know, representatives from Ash Brokerage sit on the Board of Directors of the World Baseball Academy and are conveniently a “Financial Review Advisor” for this project as well. And guess who sits on the Capital Campaign Steering Committee?? Eric Doden and Adam Henry—the Mayor’s nephew and local criminal defense lawyer.) The simultaneous and a very coincidental timing of all these projects begs a couple of questions. The most prominent being – Why would the City, Doden and Ash “develop” two major projects with competing residential components?
(2) The second thing we are being distracted from is the $150+ million sewage tunnel project, mandated by the EPA. When Graham Richard vacated office and Henry took office, a deal was struck with the EPA that essentially gave Fort Wayne more time to deal with the sewage tunnel project due to Henry being the “new mayor.” Eight years have passed and during that 8 years little if anything has really been accomplished—although preliminary pre-construction planning has begun.
The thing here is that Indy had a similar mandate and it too sought a sewage tunnel as its EPA-mandate solution, that tunnel too was originally bid for $150 million (and ended up being double that), and the Mayor’s right-hand-man at City Utilities, Kumar Menon, was involved in the Indy project. Matter-of-fact, while living in Indy, Menon began giving campaign contributions to Henry and after Henry got elected, Menon was given a job here in the Fort to deal with our EPA mandate. Menon was instrumental in the final phases of the Light Lease Settlement (where the Legacy Funds matriculated from).
Guess what happened to Indy? First, as already stated, the original contractor underbid the job---and it ended up costing Indy twice the amount of money. Second, a worker died on the job. Third, to pay for the overages, Indy took steps to privatize its water utilities---by first eliminating collective bargaining of those city workers. Why? To make the utility more attractive to private companies – no union workers means lower labor costs.
Privatizing any previously government-held asset to a private company means that company is going to look at the bottom dollar revenue and expenditures. Making a water utility profitable after a $300 million dollar investment means the company has to run as lean as possible, while keeping costs low and while increasing revenue. The water quality decreased and the water rates increased.
Think that won’t happen here? News flash – It already is! The project has been underbid. Collective bargaining of city utility workers has been eliminated. Water quality – despite all those nifty “award winning water” commercials with Henry voice-overs—has decreased. Water rate fees—the hidden ones that most people really don’t pay attention to—have increased. The person overseeing Fort Wayne’s project is the same guy who oversaw Indy’s sewage tunnel project.
So why isn’t this making the news? Because there just isn’t enough room/air time to talk about the reality of these other two projects, the promise of the Mayor doing something about the homeless situation come April, all the "wonderful" other examples of Downtown Development, aaaaaaaaaaaand Riverfront Development. Hey, only so many press conferences can be held with the Mayor flanked by multiple members of City Council and various VIPs basking in the glow and glory of camera flashes. Just sayin....wink emoticon
Folks, this is election season—be sure to ask your current Mayor and members of City Council what the heck is going on here? What are they doing with your taxpayer dollars, TIF funds, Legacy Funds, Food & Beverage taxes, etc. And be sure to ask all the candidates what their position is on these various topics.