The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Local News

April 3, 2013

The Farm project 'in limbo'

Land owners are still waiting for payment

ANDERSON, Ind. — Promoted as a mecca for developing young ball players and a boon for Anderson’s economy, The Farm remains an unfulfilled promise.

And no one involved with the project seems to know how, or if, the baseball and softball complex can still be built.

“Effectively nothing has really changed from where it was 14 or 15 months ago,” said Brad Benbow on Wednesday.

“There has been no material progress.”

Benbow, a Muncie marketing executive, investor and principal pitchman for the project, said he remains an enthusiastic supporter but doesn’t know how the current impasse can be resolved.

Like Benbow, city officials aren’t quite sure where the project stands.

“Right now and for the last several months, things have been very quiet,” said Ann Marie Bauer, attorney for the Anderson Redevelopment Commission. “To my knowledge there’s nothing going on, but something will have to be resolved.”

The project stalled last year when the city and The Farm developers were unable to reach an agreement on acceptable financing terms.

Bond sales that were expected to supply permanent financing failed to materialize in 2011. Eventually, Star Financial Bank agreed to buy the bonds but only with the added security of a debt service reserve fund.

That reserve fund was to be replenished with tax increment financing funds if necessary, but the redevelopment commission rescinded its approval for that fund in March 2012, effectively throwing the entire project into limbo.

When Mayor Kevin Smith took office last year, Controller Sam Pellegrino reviewed the proposed terms of the bond sale and asked The Farm to agree to an additional list of requirements, including loan covenants, personal guarantees from investors, financial capability statements and financial reporting requirements.

Smith said in a recent interview that “our focus was and is to make sure this was a sound financial proposition for the taxpayers of Anderson.”

The city had already guaranteed $6 million in bonds, plus a $1.5 million contribution by investors to finance the $7.5 million project, and approved a bond anticipatory note for up to $4 million, to help get construction started.

Anderson’s financial package was intended to show Anderson’s support for the athletic park, which would include a 105,000-square-foot indoor facility and 12 baseball and softball diamonds encompassing 72 acres south of Interstate 69 off Rangeline Road.

“Over the course of a couple of years we struck a deal with the city of Anderson and then that deal went into limbo,” Benbow said.

Among those caught in the uncertainty are the owners of land where The Farm would be built.

One of them, Jeanie Clem, said she didn’t necessarily think a project like The Farm was the best use of that property, but was persuaded to sell by former Mayor Kris Ockomon.

The sale price was $900,000, with $500,000 due at settlement, followed by four annual payments of $100,000 plus 4 percent interest.

The first of those payments was due in late October, Clem said. It never arrived.

“Those people still owe us $400,000. We’re just so upset, and we don’t know where to go,” Clem said.

Benbow said he understands Clem’s frustration, adding that other groups are also waiting to be paid.

Who needs to make the next move?

Benbow thinks it will have to come from the city.

“Some radically different game plan would never be acceptable to my group,” he said.

Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.

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