By: Don Counts, Editor, City-County Observer
On July 28 2010, the City-County Observer reported in an article titled
“THE TIME OF RECKONING HAS PASSED: Public Money Demands Public Disclosure”
, that the 60 day extension granted by the Evansville Redevelopment Commission to Browning Investments to execute a Development Agreement for the redevelopment of a three-star hotel has lapsed. That 60 day extension was granted by the Redevelopment Commission on May 13, 2010. The Trigger Date in the original contract was May 15, 2010 making the new Trigger Date July 15, 2010 based on a 60 calendar day extension.
As the City-County Observer has opined, the amended Trigger Date has passed and no Development Agreement has been signed. In an effort to gain a further understanding of just what the lapsed Trigger Date means to the prospects for a much anticipated three-star hotel to serve the events held at the Centre and Arena, the CCO asked Audra Levy, the Communications Director for Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel to explain just what the status of the project is.
Ms. Levy’s response to the inquiry was, “Under the contract between Browning and the Evansville Redevelopment Commission, Browning has until August 23rd to reach a development agreement”. When questioned further as to how a 60 day extension could cause a new Trigger Date of July 15th to become August 23rd, Ms. Levy simply responded “the date on the amendment is August 23rd”. When the CCO respectfully requested copies of the documentation amending the Trigger Date to August 23rd, we were instructed by Ms. Levy to “please fill out the attached public information request form”.
At about 4pm on July 30, 2010, a representative of the City-County Observer hand delivered a formal public information request form to the offices of Mayor Weinzapfel. Within an hour the CCO received a written response from Ms. Levy advising us that the Mayor’s office “may have the files that were requested” and that we will receive a progress report on the copying of these documents on or before August 14, 2010. As that is a Saturday, we will be anticipating receipt of our “progress report” at the close of business on Friday August 13th.
After being frustrated by the Robert Gibbs (President Obama’s Press Secretary) style stonewalling of Ms. Levy with respect to the requested document, the CCO contacted Mr. Bob Goldman; Chairman of the Evansville Redevelopment Commission regarding the possibility that there has been an additional extension granted that set the Trigger date to August 23rd. Mr. Goldman was quite cordial and shared with the CCO that “no further discussions or vote has been held with respect to the Trigger date since it was extended at the May 13th meeting of the ERC”. We therefore must question the authority to arbitrarily change the Trigger Date to a date that is not 60 days after May 15, 2010, which was also a Saturday. It seems as though all deadlines with respect to this contract fall on days when the media is dormant.
What does all of this mean to a start date for the construction of a three star hotel? The Trigger Date in the original contract is essentially the start of a one month period during which further decisions and commitments must be made by both parties. The specific language in the original contract is as follows.
“In the event that Seller and Purchaser do not execute the Development Agreement on or before the Trigger Date, and Purchaser does not exercise the option, and Seller does not exercise the put on or before June 15, 2010, Seller agrees to cause a hotel to be operated on the Hotel/Garage parcel from June 15, 2010 through the earlier of a) April 15, 2012 or b) the option closing date (as herein defined). Seller and Purchaser agree that in the event the Seller and Purchaser do not execute the Development Agreement on or before the Trigger Date and Purchaser does not exercise the Option and Seller does not exercise the put on or before June 15, 2010, the hotel to be operated on the Hotel/Garage parcel shall not be required to meet any specific standards regarding amenities service or quality, but shall only be required to meet the minimum standards for the operation of a hotel under applicable laws.”
We shall assume for purposes of discussion that the Trigger Date has lapsed as no authority has been granted by the Evansville Redevelopment Commission to extend it more than 60 days, and that we are now in the previously mentioned countdown period. We will furthermore assume that a Development Agreement was not executed prior to the Trigger Date. No provision is in the contract for a Development Agreement to be signed after the Trigger Date. For Ms. Levy’s assertion of Browning having until that August 23rd to sign a Development Agreement means that contractually the Trigger Date will have to be extended by the authority of the ERC. Post Trigger Date activities all pertain to what happens if no Development Agreement is in place on or before the Trigger Date.
So scenario one is that the ERC does not exercise its option to buy back the Hotel/Garage Parcel, and Browning does not exercise the “put” contract that forces the ERC to buy the parcel back by December 31,2010 then Browning agrees to “cause” a hotel to be operated on the parcel through April 15, 2012. Furthermore, in this scenario the three star hotel to complement the world class venues of the Centre and the new Arena will not be as bright as expected. Quite frankly, a hotel of minimal standards would be detrimental to the venues that much taxpayer money has already been spent to establish.
This project is of utmost importance to the viability of over $200M of public venues. If Evansville is to capitalize on whatever potential is offered by the Arena and the Centre, our downtown convention hotel can’t be a replication of the motels that line Fares Avenue. The City-County Observer encourages, and even demands that the City of Evansville and the Evansville Redevelopment Commission be more forthcoming with information that is of public interest as the final keystone of the public entertainment venues is defined. We further encourage these two bodies to take whatever actions are required to assure that the mixing of state of the art venues with minimum standard dilapidated blight is not allowed to encroach on an area where so much public money has already been invested. The Front Door Pride program is already building $200,000 houses in an area that has a market value of below $50,000. Let us not repeat this conflicted policy with $200M of public investment.
As taxpayers, the City-County Observer calls upon the Mayor’s office to embrace his theme of honesty and transparency and release the document that gives Browning until August 23, 2010 to decide what it intends to do with the Executive Inn. We encourage you as citizens and taxpayers of the City of Evansville to request that this document be released immediately for public and media scrutiny. Please contact Audra Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org to make your request.