OmniSource: Follow-up and environmental study release denial

There has been some press in the last month or two concerning the OmniSource property acquisition by the City for use as the North River Now project.  Here’s a timeline of the events, plus an update.

June 30, 2008

From Indiana’s News Center, by reporter Jeff Neumeyer, posted June 2, 2008:

City Officials Still Hoperful in OmniSource Land Negotiations

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry’s administration remains hopeful a deal can be worked out for the city to acquire the abandoned OmniSource land near downtown.

A June 30th deadline is fast approaching for a deal to be finalized. [AFW post]


July 1, 2008

According to Ben Lanka at the Journal Gazette, the City’s option to purchase the OmniSource property has expired and won’t be renewed.

[…] While the option and the money the city spent are both gone, Urbahns said it wasn’t a waste. Having a purchase option provided the city access to the site and an ability to study its environmental condition. The environmental studies are complete, and Urbahns said nothing surprising was found, but the city has refused to release the reports.

Mayor Tom Henry said both sides moved as quickly as they could to reach a deal, but things happened during negotiations that caused delays – one being the transition from former Mayor Graham Richard to Henry. [AFW post]


December 12, 2008

Derrick Gingery with the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly wrote on December 12, 2008 that:

Fort Wayne officials no longer are actively pursuing the North River property, which had been considered a potential site for a mixed-use retail and residential development project.

[…] With the city budget being scaled back because of property-tax reform legislation, Community Development Director John Urbahns said he has not talked with the Rifkin family, the owners of the property, for some time.

Even though the option expired, Urbahns said during the summer the city still was interested in purchasing the property and that negotiations were continuing.  [AFW post]

The way the above sounded to me, the City had backed completely out of acquiring the project.


December 15, 2008

I submitted a written request to the City for release of the Environmental Impact Study of the OmniSource property.


December 17, 2008

I received a letter from Carol Taylor, City Attorney, denying my request for release of the Environmental Impact Study.  The Indiana Code cited was I.C. 5-14-3-4(b)(5)(A), which doesn’t exist, if I’m reading the statute correctly.  I think she meant to cite, I.C. 5-14-3-4(a)(5)(A):

(5) The following:
    (A) Records relating to negotiations between the Indiana economic development corporation, the Indiana finance authority, an economic development commission, a local economic development organization (as defined in IC 5-28-11-2(3)), or a governing body of a political subdivision with industrial, research, or commercial prospects, if the records are created while negotiations are in progress.

and  I.C. 5-14-3-4(b)(6):

(6) Information concerning research, including actual research documents, conducted under the auspices of a state educational institution, including information:
    (A) concerning any negotiations made with respect to the research; and
    (B) received from another party involved in the research.

There are two versions of I.C. 5-14-3-4, version (a) and (b).  


December 29, 2008

In tonight’s Indiana News Center newscast, Jeff Neumeyer reported the following:

Officials with the City of Fort Wayne are hoping the incoming Obama administration will deliver some late Christmas gifts to boost jobs and the condition of local infrastructure.

Mayor Tom Henry’s administration would love to see an Obama Presidency hand over ten million dollars to help the city purchase the old OmniSource land on North Calhoun Street, and get it ready for re-sale to a prospective developer.

When I first heard this, the $10 million dollar asking price didn’t reconcile with the announced $4.3 million stated asking price.  Also, the “get it ready for re-sale” sounded vague and could include anything like environmental remediation, demolition of existing structures, infrastructure…  If you remember back, the City refused to release the environmental study done on the property in 2007.  I think we can all agree that there is some contamination in that property – the questions are how much contamination, how much will it cost to clean it up and how does that figure in with a fair asking price for the property?  


December 30, 2008

It turns out, the other thing Neumeyer didn’t report was that this request was made via the US Conference of Mayors as part of it’s MainStreet Economic Recovery survey and it won’t be a late Christmas gift as it probably won’t even happen until the earliest, a few months into 2009.  I learned this after asking questions of Ozzie Mitson with the City.  I appreciated his quick response and further information provided.  However, I still felt there was the unanswered question of what exactly the $10 million included – and was the acquisition still possible or not?


December 31, 2008

I spoke with John Urbahns, Community Development Director, about the original story and status of the project.  

John shared with me that the $10 million asking price did not include remediation, but instead consisted solely of brownfield prep work, demolition of existing structures, infrastructure and acquisition of the property.  The acquisition will probably not be eligible for any aid from an Obama presidency as the program will not cover land acquisitions.  Further, while the City is not actively pursuing acquisition of the project and the option has expired…

… it’s taken a back-burner.  There’s so many other issues we need to be looking at – obviously revenue and financing.  Now’s not the time we’d be moving forward with it and if there were something to come up in the stimulus package that could be used for it … we still have discussions with the property owners from time to time, just nothing immediate.  Until something happens, we are still going to stay in the picture to some degree.  Knowing where the economy is at, we know that now’s not the most pressing time for that development.

My thanks to John for speaking with me to clarify the status.  I also learned from another source that the next step for the list submitted to the US Conference of Mayors will be prioritization.


January 4, 2009

At this point, I’m still undecided whether or not to file an appeal with the Indiana Public Access Counselor regarding the City’s denial of my request.  I have talked with several people about the issue and garnered several thoughts/opinions.

One person pointed out that there was nothing to be gained from releasing the study if it were truly dark and ominous as it might scare off any potential developers.  While I find this to be a valid thought, I asked an attorney this: if the City has the study and has shared it with the Rifkin family, which indeed they have probably done, does the Rifkin family now have a responsibility do release said information or at least knowledge of its existence to possible developers?  The answer was a resounding yes.  So it seems, the information is going to be discovered by any potential developers.  

It then becomes a question of how bad is the contamination and how many dollars worth of remediation will it take to clean it up.  This is important for citizens to be cognizant of so as to judge whether or not whatever the City would pay for the property is a fair price.  It would also seem to me that now would be an opportune time for the report to be released.  There are no potential developers on the horizon and probably won’t be for quite a few months.  The City is not in a position to proceed with acquisition either.  Get the information out now and let the furor die down so that by the time things right themselves economically, the City can proceed without the distractions of controversy.

As to my decision of whether or not to file an appeal, I will be doing so in the next couple of weeks.  When that happens, I will make it available on this blog.

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  1. The city certainly isn’t going to save anything by not releasing the study of its own accord. How much time and money are they willing to waste by trying to keep it secret?


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