Merritt says city shouldn’t have threatened eminent domain for GM stamping plant site

Republican state Sen. Jim Merritt criticized Indianapolis city officials for threatening to use eminent domain to acquire the former GM stamping plant property during the final debate between mayoral candidates Monday night.

The live TV debate, hosted by the West Side Chamber of Commerce and WXIN-TV Channel 59, focused on three areas: crime and public safety, roads and transportation, and economic development.

The three candidates—Democratic incumbent Joe Hogsett, Libertarian candidate Douglas McNaughton and Merritt—were asked specifically about the city’s position to use eminent domain if necessary to take control of the GM stamping plant site from developer Ambrose Property Group, which has withdrawn from its planned $1.4 billion Waterside development on the 91-acre downtown property.

Merritt and McNaughton said eminent domain should be the last option considered. Merritt said the property is now “stuck in the mud” because no developer will be interested in buying it from Ambrose after the threat of eminent domain has been used.

“That was going to be an outstanding project for the west side of Indianapolis,” Merritt said. “And I’m hopeful we can resurrect it when I’m mayor.”

Hogsett said he agreed that eminent domain should not be the first choice when trying to settle such issues, but he said he has to look out for the best interest of the neighborhoods in that area.

“We have always been open to sitting down with the owner of the property and resolving this equitably,” Hogsett said.

The city offered to buy the property from Ambrose for $6 million last week, but Ambrose rejected that offer. And Ambrose has filed a notice of tort claim with the city, which is a legal step that would allow it to sue the city over its effort to force the developer to sell it.

On the subject of road infrastructure, the candidates each stood by plans they had already announced and avoided criticizing the proposals from their opponents.

Merritt said his idea to create express lane tolls on roads such as Binford Boulevard is feasible because people would want to take advantage of having a faster commute.

“Many people would use a hot lane on Binford,” Merritt said. “That is a solid solution.”

Hogsett said his regional infrastructure proposal is a great option for Marion County because it would not raise taxes for residents, even though elected officials in surrounding counties have expressed opposition to the idea.

“My solution is out there; others are going to be discussed, and I look forward to that debate,” Hogsett said.

McNaughton reiterated his support for allowing citizens to fill potholes in their own neighborhoods.

“We do have citizens willing to go out and work toward that effect,” McNaughton said.

On transit, Merritt cautioned that work on the Blue Line should only proceed after lessons are learned from the Red Line, which he says Hogsett rushed into place.

“We have congestion, and we have confusion,” Merritt said. “We can’t repeat that with the Blue Line.”

Hogsett pushed back on that critique though, pointing out that more than 230,000 riders used the Red Line in September.

“I’m optimistic about the Red Line,” Hogsett said. “It was not rushed.”

Also during the 40-minute debate, Merritt said he regretted that his campaign published a website last week called WhatsJoeHiding.com that featured false attacks against Hogsett, including that the mayor failed to pay child support. Merritt’s campaign took down the website over the weekend after the child support claim was debunked.

“I extend my apology to you,” Merritt said to Hogsett. “I’m accountable like we all are in politics.”

In response to the apology, Hogsett said he’s proud that he’s running a positive campaign.

“I’ve known Jim for 40 years,” Hogsett said. “He’s a good father, and I just pray that he never has to pick up the phone and answer questions from his kids about what they’ve seen on the internet about their dad.”

After the debate, Merritt told reporters that he knew about the website before it went live, but he did not know it contained false claims.

“This is my responsibility,” Merritt said. “I’m accountable. It’s my campaign, and I’m the one to call the shots.”

Election Day is Nov. 5.

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6 thoughts on “Merritt says city shouldn’t have threatened eminent domain for GM stamping plant site

  1. I believe that most residents don’t approve of greedy developers who buy property at dirt cheap prices, promise the moon, and then wait until real estate prices skyrocket to flip it, sell it, and walk away with a bundle of money. Hogsett is doing the right and best thing for Indianapolis.

    1. So why didn’t the city buy it “at dirt cheap prices,” Walter?

      ‘Sorry, but Eminent Domain has no place in this discussion…nor should Ambrose get off scot-free if they took money for redevelopment and then did not fulfil their end of the deal.

  2. You forgot the part where they asked the City for money, agreed on a package, and then went back to the well for more…and when they didn’t get it, walked away from the project.

  3. Merritt seems like he forgot that Ambrose was walking away and had no interest in developing the property. Ambrose is just frustrated they could not pocket the profits from a property sold to them at below market values and the windfall after they failed to do what they promised.

  4. Eminent Domain is always in the picture when dealing in real estate with government. It keeps the parties at the table and keeps the redevelopment active. All parties usually win since Eminent Domain rarely goes to court.

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  5. Full disclosure, I’ll be voting for Hogsett. That said, I don;t like the ED issue and I’m unconvinced by the arguments set forth above. ED should be used in rare occasions when the public interest in the property is overwhelming important. The city has been jerking around with this parcel for years and years. They sold it to Ambrose in an arms length contract for an amount the city deemed to be fair. The city then spent some relatively small amount of money ($500k?) on pre-construction infrastructure engineering or whatever vs. what the overall plan was for them to spend. You can ascribe to Ambrose whatever devious motivation you want – it doesn’t change the contract. Let the lawyers hammer out whether they’ve breached the deal or not. You may not like that they may end up making a killing on flipping it, but that’s our free enterprise system.

    Walter – they didn’t wait for prices to skyrocket. They’ve only owned it for a year or two. And so what if it did? Um, that’s the business they are in. Virtually every developer buys property under the assumption that it’s a fair price or even a steal. They usually plan to develop it but there’s always the option to get rid of it instead.

    Bob P – you’re right – if the city spent money under the contract pursuant to the promise of a development project, they are at least entitled to get that money back. But ED is too many steps too far. Again, the contract surely should have addressed this topic and if not, then the city could use some better lawyers. Ambrose will eventually make the city whole on their out of pocket costs when a deal is done.

    Chris B – same answer. This is a minor breach that is satisfactorily remedied by reimbursing the city for their costs. Not take it via ED.

    D.M. – To your first point that Ambrose never intended to develop the property, you must be clairvoyant. That they paid less than fair market value, whose fault is that? If the city intended for them to get a good deal only if they did the development, then the contract will provide for that. Apparently, the contract failed to contemplate this outcome and the city wants to have a second bite at the apple.

    Robert K – ED should not “always be in the picture” – there must be a compelling reason. Pretty hard to have a free market in RE development if the city can swoop in for frivolous reasons. And you must be smoking something if you think everybody wins. The city tells the owner what they plan to pay, negotiate a bit back and forth, but at the end of the day they pick a number and they are off to the races. Meanwhile, the owner is forced to go to court and hope that a judge will make them whole after years of expensive litigation.