$9.5M no-bid deal irks Fishers taxpayers

FISHERS - A plan to demolish the Fishers’ train station building and create a mixed-use project is being met with criticism and controversy, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.

The town council voted 5-2 to approve the $28 million project, which will include apartments, retail space and a parking garage.

Taxpayers will contribute $9.5 million toward the parking structure from TIF dollars, or tax increment financing.

Although public money and public land will be used, the town did not put out a Request For Proposal (RFP) for the train station portion of the project.

The train station portion did, however, require separate council approval.

“I’m not OK with that,” said Mike Krug, a 23 year resident of Fishers.  “It bugs the heck out of me. The process was not transparent, and the process at the very least seems to be tainted.”

The developer chosen, Loftus Robinson, contributed $250 to the mayoral campaign of town manager Scott Fadness.

“It looks bad, if nothing else, and shouldn’t be done,” said Greg Purvis, a democrat running for council.

“It looks like pay to play politics.”

Purvis pointed out the project across the street, called the Depot or Phase 1, was put out to bid, while the train station portion or Phase 2 was not.

Republican city council member Renee Cox, who is running for mayor, voted against the train station project.

“This is taxpayer land, this is taxpayer dollars and the process was not fair and open and transparent,” said Cox. “Everyone ought to be able to come to the table and give us their best offer.”

Both Purvis and Cox denied their concerns are politically motivated.

“It’s about taxpayers,” said Cox.

“There’s a lot of republicans with the same concerns I have,” said Purvis.

In July 2012, the town issued an RFP for the redevelopment of property owned by Fishers Town Hall Building Corporation at 8596 E. 116th street.

“That RFP specifically asked developers to consider development of both sides of Municipal Drive,” said John Weingardt, Fishers Town Council President in an email to RTV6. “The Town considered the developers vision for both sides of the street and economics when choosing the developer to develop the first phase.  However, the Town did not commit to choosing the developer of phase 1 for the second phase of development in front of Town Hall, leaving open the option that the Town may be able to structure a better deal with a more refined vision.”
Ultimately, Loftus Robinson approached the town with a proposal that required a public subsidy.

Kenney took her questions to town council vice president Pete Peterson who explained the train station project is part of the town’s master plan.

“I think if you look at the original RFP we talk about a vision for the downtown area,” said Peterson.
“There were six original bidders which absolutely knew there was a phase 2 and what we were going to be looking for there.”

Peterson said the town contemplated putting the phase 2 portion, also known as the train station development, out to bid.

“The town looked at that, that was a possibility,” said Peterson. “There was a group that approached us where we were able to negotiate the best deal for the citizens.  Many times you can put out an RFP and it kind of locks your hands up.”

Peterson points out the mix of apartments, retail and parking will bring in approximately $300,000 in property tax revenue to Fishers’ coffers.

“The negotiated deal was a super deal for the residents,” said Peterson. “It’s going to be a terrific development when it’s done.  They’re going to see a much improved train station.”

Peterson said some of the criticism is suspect.

“Absolutely, it’s politically motivated,” said Peterson. “We’re getting ready to head into the first city election.”

Peterson disputes claims the project was not transparent.

“We’ve had over 20 public meetings on the downtown project, from phase 1 to phase 2, to the amphitheater, there’s been 20 public meetings on the project,” said Peterson.

Town manager Scott Fadness pointed out the developer’s campaign contribution was a small one and the train station project was vetted through numerous channels.

“With regard to your question about campaign contributions for the mayoral race, my campaign has raised nearly $150,000 and the Loftus Robinson company contributed $250,” said Fadness in an email to RTV6. “Any large policy decision and any expenditure over $50,000 must be approved by the Town Council. The development project around the Fishers Train Station was approved by the Economic Development Commission, the Town Hall Building Corporation, the Redevelopment Commission, and the Town Council.”

Construction on the train station project is expected to begin this summer and take about a year.

Construction is already under way across the street on The Depot, another mixed-use retail and apartment project.

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