Having listened to Pat Miller's interview with mayoral candidate Paula Hughes about the big Harrison Square meeting last night, I feel ready to yet again dish out my version of events. For those of you who have no idea what HS is, let me try to nutshell the whole thing. Just before he left office, former Ft Wayne mayor Graham Richard swung a deal with the ownership of our single-a baseball team (then called the Wizards, now the Tin Caps) and Barry Real Estate ( which is in a somewhat incestuous relationship with the baseball ownership, which is known as Hardball Capital). Basically, the city was going to clear room down town for a state of the art stadium, retail shopping, and a condo development. Thing is, the financial legerdemain involved the condo revenue paying for the stadium and somewhat vice versa. Long story short, there were three parts to the development, each feeding off the others so that the city could (theoretically) get it all on the cheap. Problem was, if any one part of the project didn't pull its weight, we the taxpayers would get hung for it. "This is nothing but a pyramid scheme", I said way back then. "We are going to get screwed."
Sure enough, the twin disasters of economic collapse and inability to find anybody (outside of Mayor-elect Tom Henry) stupid enough to plunk down $1,000 earnest to get their name on the list. As the months went by and a big hole in downtown ground remained a hole in the ground, the BIIIG condo plan became a little Condo plan, and then a hybrid-apartment plan, and groundbreaking went from "in the spring" to "next summer" to "early spring of 2011". Barry missed deadline after deadline, for which they were to be fined under the contract. Hizzoner failed to inflict such punishment right from the get go, so Barry got free reign to dilly around as we watched them default on other projects around the nation, with Hizzoner singing, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" the whole way. Last night we were "excited" to learn we had a new "deal" with Barry in which they- in return for the CITY rounding up new investors and THE TAXPAYERS seeing some of their TIF money diverted from more worthy uses- agreed to a start date "sometime in November".
Pat asked Paula what the difference was between this alleged "deal" and the promise last February that they would be ready to start in May. Paula's answer: "This time we don't believe them." Sorry, Paula, that ship has sailed. And the retailers lined up to go into the retail space (if it ever gets built) are at the ticket booth booking passage on the next one, if they're smart.
So what has been accomplished? We've gotten a real gem of a stadium (no sarcasm- it's beautiful) paid for by condo and retail rentals (now THERE'S sarcasm). We've got a leaking hole in the middle of downtown and another one in our TIF account. And Tom Henry has- bit by bit, little by little, precept upon precept- learned that there is only ONE peak on a pyramid scheme and HE AIN'T IT. Now, I can understand Hizzoner getting involved with a bunch of crooks like BRE ( use whatever loose definition on crook you want); What I'd like someone to explain to me is why the heck Graham Richard got involved. Did he take a few bucks, or did BRE just really see him coming?
God knows I did. But, of course, the people of Ft Wayne got ZERO SAY in the whole thing. Don't blame me- I wasn't a citizen at the time, but I SURE woulda voted for Linda Buskirk twice.