I wanted a bit more time to break this, however, I received word late this afternoon that the News-Sentinel will be printing the story tomorrow. Â I’d discussed this with a NS reporter last evening, but was told there wasn’t really anything significant here. Â So, I’m scooping them. Â Let me also say that at this point, I did try to set up an interview with a City official regarding this issue, but received no response.
The headline is a bit misleading in that it’s not completely a done deal – yet. Â The State Legislature still needs to sign off on either giving the citizens a referendum vote or just going ahead and approving a new license or move of an existing one.
That said, the one thing that has come up Â in conversation after conversation about this topic is, who really is driving this effort? Â For some time, I’ve felt someone somewhere was encouraging our Mayor to push for a referendum vote. Â I don’t mean some one’s hand is in the Mayor’s pocket, nor anything to do with corruption – please make sure that is absolutely clear in your mind. Â I AM NOT SUGGESTING CORRUPTION. Â I am however, suggesting someone has partnered with the City, encouraging the City to assist in the furtherance of their agenda.
Take a moment and examine this timeline I’ve put together regarding this issue.
About a month ago, I began hearing rumblings about the OmniSource property. Â I heard one rumor that a groundbreaking had been held for a water park and another rumor that it had been sold. Â I could not confirm any of these rumors at that time, so they were easily dismissed.
This past week, a friend of mine mentioned the company, Summit City Holdings. Â I surfed into their website and discovered a plethora of documents related to their proposal to build a Resort, Casino, Imax, 3,000 Seat Theatre and Water Park. Â Now frankly, this isn’t nothing new. Â We first heard about this from. Â But, at that time, November, 2008, there wasn’t much information available outside of a press release.
So, when I began looking at the documents on the Summity City Holdings website, some things began jumping out. Â Let me point out some items of interest from the timeline:
- February 6, 2009: A second lobbyist, Krieg Devault, LLP, is hired by the City.
- February 12, 2009: Mayor’s second State of the City address has a section concerning a casino being brought to Fort Wayne.
- February 17, 2009: A letter indicates, that the Summit City Grand Resort & Casino Holdings Corp. presented 10 copies of it’s proposal to build a “Casino, Hotel, Water Park, and Resort & National Concert Venue” to Mayor Tom Henry. Â (Letter)
- A few weeks later, demolition of the remaining former OmniSourceÂ offices at Fourth and Calhoun Streets begins. Â A month later, the blue wall on the east side of the property is demolished.
In the above metioned letter, is the following:
[…] We have carefully reviewed your city’s requirements and understand the City’s need to revitalize the city of Fort Wayne downtown area.
Our proposed business venture in the City of Fort Wayne will create jobs, grow the local economy and enhance the community.
[…] We welcome the opportunity to further discuss our approach and demonstrate our qualifications, as your process may allow. […]
City’s requirements? Process? Â What process? Â This letter doesn’t sound like someone taking a shot in the dark and dropping off 10 copies of a business plan, it sounds like some conversations have been had for some time to flesh out things like requirements and processes.
UPDATE, or ADDED: I might add that the City let it’s option expire for the option to purchase the property and publicly admitted acquisition of the OmniSource property was no longer a priority last December. Â This was shortly after Summit City Holdings announced their plans to build the project.
Let me point out a few things of interest from the Summit City Holdings Business Plan for this project:
The primary objective of the Summit City Grand Resort & Casino Holdings Corporation is to revitalize the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana downtown area through a Master Development Dream TEAM. TEAM is an acronym meaning – Together Everyone Achieves More. [page 4]
[…] The Master Development Dream TEAM will lead this charge by revitalizing the Fort Wayne downtown area through this major project. The only area in Fort Wayne that could house such a project is the North River property which is a former site for OmniSource Corp. The 24 acres property is located at 1610 N. Calhoun St. Fort Wayne, Indiana 46808. This site is owned by the Rifkin family. The TEAM has entered into discussions and has secured in principal the utilization of this property. The Environmental Studies for the site are completed and approved to allow the property to be used for building the Resort, Water Park, National Performing Arts Center and Casino. We have secured the services of MSKTD for all Architecture, Engineering and Construction Management as the builders for the Master Development Dream TEAM.
On page 38, is a “Timeline”. Â On this timeline are the following entries in the “Time table 2009”:
- January, 2009: “Pursue Casino License” and “Community Support”
- February, 2009: Â “Get key Lobbyist on Board”
Look at the timeline again paying special attention to January and February, 2009.
January saw the real start of the Mayor’s push for the start of the casino/gambling issue in our community. Â It also saw the commission of the studies on the issue by the City. Â The following month saw Mayor Henry’s stepping up his public discussion of the event with a section devoted to the issue of bringing a casinoÂ to Fort Wayne in his State of the City followed by an editorial he wrote for the Journal Gazette.
That last item about getting a lobbyist on board is interesting. Â February saw the hiring of a second lobbyist, Krieg Devault, LLP, by the City of Fort Wayne. Â A quick check of theregistered with the State of Indiana reveals no lobbyists hired by Summit City Holdings Corp. Â Further, all Fort Wayne, Indiana related companies or individuals on the list are not companies or individuals who would be doing so on behalf of Summit City Holdings.
The reason given by City Corporate Counsel Tim Haffner for the hiring of Krieg was that a conflict of interest within Taft, Stettinius & Hollister prevented them from taking more work or pursuing the casino referendum further. Â Â And yet, we paid them for several months in 2008 and January 2009 for lobbying efforts? Â The question I would have asked of the City, if they’d responded, was: did the City hire Krieg at the suggestion of Summit City Holdings? Â And if it was a simple conflict of interest that promoted the hiring of Krieg, how was Taft, et. al, able to lobby as long as they did without a conflict?
I know that SummitÂ City Holdings has made three presentations on this project in the last month or two. Â One to a City Councilman and two to other groups with a vested interest in the project’s area. Â I have been told that construction on the water park and resort areas would begin this year with an eye towards beginning the casino a year or two or three down the road. Â That would allow them time to secure the required casino license.
I would encourage you to look at the information provided on the Summit City Holdings website. Â I would encourage you to weigh the facts and consider the above. Â As I mentioned, I don’t think there’s any corruption here, however, I do feel the Administration hasn’t been quite as forthcoming about the behind the scene’s discussions on this project. Â We’ve all known for sometime there were other entities pursuing a gambling/gaming facility in our town. Â One of those being Hoosier Park in Anderson. Â The Administration has never denied it has talked with possible suitors, however, the extent of those talks and who they’ve been with – within reason – should be revealed. Â But, I can imagine that part of the City’s response will be, it’s been on the web for the public to know – nothing has been hidden.
Definitely not now.