Fort Wayne City Council approved the purchase agreement of the North River property, on Clinton and Fourth, on a 5-3 vote Tuesday night.
The agreement stipulates that the City will purchase the 29-acre property across from Science Central and Lawton Park from the Rifkin family for $4.63 million.
In a discussion last week, council members expressed concern over the indemnification agreement, clearing the Rifkin family of liability if any environmental hazards appeared. For some, those concerns were not mitigated Tuesday night.
A 2007 environmental study was conducted on the North River property, but the owners would not permit council or the public to view the findings. Two council members offered to sign non-disclosure agreements to see the report, and were denied.
At-large councilman Michael Barranda remained skeptical of the purchase. He says council should not only be insulted by the rush to pass the agreement through council, but also by the lack of transparency in sharing environmental information that may end up affecting taxpayers.
“When taxpayers ask us what we put them on the hook for to pay for this, the only valid answer is, ‘I don’t know. I wasn’t permitted to see the report,’” Barranda said.
Barranda was not alone in his criticism. Sixth district councilman Glynn Hines also strongly opposed the agreement, calling it a “swindle.”
“This is probably one of the worst-negotiated contracts I’ve ever seen come before us,” said Hines. "When you allow the seller -- in this case, the Rifkins -- to strongarm you into indemnification and confidentiality with council, that’s a no from me.”
Despite this, members in favor of the agreement supported the potential returns of development on the property, which they say could make up for losses on environmental remediation. At-large councilman John Crawford criticized the rush to approve the agreement, but ultimately voted in favor of it.
“This is not a good deal,” Crawford said. “But it might be the best deal possible, with the seller that you had and them possibly not feeling a great deal of pressure to sell. With the city wanting to acquire it, this may be the best deal.”
That view ultimately won out, with council approving the deal on a 5-3 vote. Several entities have already expressed interest in the property, including the Headwaters Junction roundhouse and railroad attraction.
YES: John Crawford, Tom Didier, Paul Ensley, Tom Freistroffer, Geoff Paddock
NO: Jason Arp, Glynn Hines, Russ Jehl