Judge orders mediation in fight between city, Ambrose over Waterside project

At issue is 91 acres of former GM stamping plant property that Ambrose has decided not to develop. (IBJ photo/Lesley Weidenbener)

A Marion County judge has ordered a 90-day mediation period between Ambrose Property Group and the city of Indianapolis in hopes of resolving their fight over the former GM stamping plant property on the edge of downtown.

Ambrose filed suit after the city threatened to use eminent domain to take over the property after the development company withdrew from a planned $1.4 billion project that was intended to transform the site.

Marion Superior Court Judge Timothy Oakes ordered the mediation Friday afternoon, following an hour-and-a-half of oral arguments tied to a Jan. 24 motion by the city to dismiss Ambrose’s lawsuit on grounds the company had failed to make sufficient legal arguments to move the case forward.

Oakes said he does not believe the court system was the correct arena for the dispute, which he said is more of a business conflict rather than a legal matter.

Ambrose has alleged the city’s plans to take the site are illegal because of a clause in a project agreement that forbids the city from doing so. The company also alleges it is owed damages for the city’s threats.

In a statement to IBJ after the hearing, the city’s corporation counsel Donnie Morgan said the city’s efforts to take the property were to “protect the future” of the site. He said the city hopes “Judge Oakes’ decision will provide a venue for productive dialogue” between the city and Ambrose.

TIMELINE: A complete look at Ambrose’s dispute with the city

Representatives for both Ambrose and the city said in court they were open to mediation, although the city indicated it would have preferred the case still be thrown out altogether.

An attorney for the city said the sides have “had discussions” since an initial hearing Dec. 4, but did not offer details about the talks.

Oakes said he is hopeful Ambrose and the city “come to mediation thinking like business people, not aggrieved parties.”

A court reporter told IBJ that the sides will likely need to return to court in May to provide an update on the mediation. The parties retreated to a private meeting room after Oakes’ order to discuss scheduling and the primary mediators for each side.

Ambrose has owned the property since 2018 and planned to develop the $1.4 billion mixed-use project known as Waterside. It withdrew from those plans in September 2019, after the city apparently declined to provide additional incentives for the project.

The company said it hoped to find another developer to take over the site and follow through on Waterside, but the city sent a letter indicating it planned to use eminent domain to take over the property—ultimately leading to Ambrose’s lawsuit in November.

If mediation does not resolve the dispute, Oakes will decide whether the case will proceed to trial or to toss it.

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