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Angie's List calls off $40M expansion over 'freedom bill'

March 28, 2015
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(IBJ file photo)

Angie's List Inc. says it is calling off plans for a $40 million expansion to its east-side headquarters "as a result of the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

"We are putting the 'Ford Building Project' on hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future," Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle said in a written statement issued late Saturday morning.

Angie's List was seeking $18.5 million in bond money from the city to support the expansion, which it said would create more than 1,000 jobs by the end of 2019.

The statement said the company was expecting to break ground on the project "within days" even though the proposal has yet to receive approval from the Indianapolis City-County Council.

The company said it will begin reviewing alternatives for the expansion of its headquarters immediately.

The religious-freedom law, signed Thursday by Gov. Mike Pence, prohibits any state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs and has a definition of a person that includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

Groups supporting the measure say it will prevent the government from compelling people to provide services such as catering or photography for same-sex weddings or other activities they find objectionable for religious reasons.

Opponents say the law could provide legal cover for discrimination against gay people. The law has spurred protests from businesses and a backlash on social media in recent days.

"Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none, and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents," Oesterle said in the statement.

Oesterle did not return phone or text messages seeking comment on Saturday. Angie's List officials said he would conduct a press conference Saturday afternoon.

Under the plan, most of the bond money, $9.6 million, would go toward construction of a parking garage to serve workers in the former Ford manufacturing building on East Washington Street. Angie's List would pay nothing for the building, which is owned by Indianapolis Public Schools. The company intends to invest $23 million to renovate it as a headquarters.

The company said it will hire about 1,300 more people and have 2,800 people on the payroll by the end of 2019.

Angie's List also would own the 1,300-space garage, though as many as 500 spaces could be made available to the city if the garage is underutilized by the company.

The City-County Council voted unanimously this month to delay a decision on whether to issue the bonds. The council sent the proposal back to committee, marking the second time a decision on the issue has been delayed. The next possible date it could come up for a full vote is Monday.

The proposal was passed 7-1 with bipartisan support by a the council's Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee on Feb. 23.

The religious freedom legislation has come under fire in recent days from groups ranging from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to individuals including Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, GenCon CEO Adrian Swartout, Salesforce.com chief Marc Benioff, Broadway star Audra McDonald and Star Trek actor and gay-rights activist George Takei.

Supporters of the bill that Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed Thursday say discrimination claims are overblown. They maintain courts haven't allowed that to happen under similar laws covering the federal government and in 19 other states.

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