Land owner of evacuated ROC claims city made up front payment
By Sandra Chapman, WTHR investigative reporter - bio | email
It's down to the wire for the City of Indianapolis and the land owners of the safety-plagued Regional Operations Center.
Metro police officers were forced to evacuate the east side facility because of ongoing fire concerns. But that hasn't stopped the flow of city taxpayer dollars.
Now, the landowner claims he was given a secret deal that put a chunk of money into his hands up front.
In just a matter of seconds, fire laps up the walls and across the roof of an old warehouse on Van Buren Street. There were no fire walls to stop it.
It's the exact scenario the city's top public safety watchman wants to avoid at the new Regional Operations Center. Troy Riggs reveals more than 100 police officers and support staff were working on the main level without firewalls and sprinklers in the basement.
Concerned, he forced the evacuation of the facility a year-and-a-half after Homeland Security and IMPD's East District moved in.
"I cannot be the director of public safety and have someone in a building that they deem to be unsafe," he said on September 9.
It's a decision now setting off a different kind of firestorm.
"The Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police is calling for an independent investigation into this matter," announced Bill Owensby, the President of the Fraternal Order of Police the following day.
The FOP wants the Marion County prosecutor to bring in an outside investigator to determine who signed off on police moving into a building they believe would have been shut down anywhere else in the city.
It's no secret former Public Safety Director Frank Straub signed the public contract.
"This was not built in the shadow of a box," said land owner, Alex Carroll. "If it was unsafe, why are they waiting a year and a half to say it's unsafe?"
Carroll insists there were plenty of eyes on the deal.
"It was Frank Straub, it was the mayor, it was the City-County Council, it was everybody," Carroll said.
"They all said yes?," asked 13 Investigates.
"They all said yes," Carroll said, emphatically.
Mayor Greg Ballard and his staff don't want to talk about the ROC. The city overlooked the unfinished business there in 2011 and used the site as security headquarters for Super Bowl XLVI.
More than two years later, there are weeds and dead trees outside and a punch list of 50 required improvements inside. Now, the city and Carroll are in 11th hour negotiations over who should pay for a lease deal now drawing scrutiny across party lines.
"The city and the taxpayers of Marion County are on the hook for repairs that any other landlord would make in any other situation," said Marion County Democratic Party Chairman Joel Miller.
But Carroll says this lease deal is different. He says the city got a bond and is paying the bank nearly $60,000 a month for rent.
Carroll already got a good amount of his money. Now for the first time, he reveals he was paid a secret amount up front by the city to lease the Eastgate Mall property, as part of a confidential agreement.
"We've been paid," Carroll told 13 Investigates.
"Are you saying then that you guys have already received the $18 million?" questioned 13 Investigates.
"It's not $18 million," Carroll said of his share.
That $18 million price tag is what the city will pay for the loan, including principal and interest over 25 years.
Not even Carroll thinks that's a good deal.
"It doesn't seem like a very prudent way to spend taxpayer money. We had nothing to do with drafting the lease," he explained.
Instead, Carroll says the city signed its own fate with a deal created by its own bank. Part of that means all risks are to be borne by the tenant - the city. The landlord shall have no responsibility or liability.
Failing to pay on time could cause a hit to the city's good credit.
"If, for some reason, the city wants to stop paying, then they effectively run the risk of jeopardizing that credit rating," said Carroll.
He says for months, he's been made out to be the bad guy.
"I've absolutely been misrepresented, there's no two ways about it," he said of the publicity.
Carroll is threatening to file a million-dollar lawsuit to recoup the payment he made for the city's insurance on the building last year and for the cost of change orders. He says a drawing the City-County Council approved is different from a drawing of the more complex facility he was told to build.
"We went way above and beyond what we considered our duty, to try to be good citizens and try to have a place where the police could live happily for the next 25 years," Carroll concluded.
The Deputy Director of Public Safety says she is not aware of a confidential agreement with Alex Carroll and has not seen the bond arrangement.
The city says it's making its payments, but is not sure how much, if any, of that Carroll pockets. The city's main concern now is making sure the building is safe and getting officers back into the building.