The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Local News

July 17, 2014

Amendments buy Wigwam more time

Sept. 2 deadline looms; commissioners frustrated with process

ANDERSON, Ind. — Frustration was palpable Thursday as members of the Anderson Redevelopment Commission debated, and then passed, an amended resolution authorizing them to take ownership of the Wigwam complex from the Anderson Community School Corporation.

But time, however, is not on the side of any group that might want to redevelop the iconic Anderson gym and classrooms.

For the Wigwam to escape the wrecking ball, a plan must be signed and sealed by Sept. 2 under terms of an extension the Anderson Community Schools board of trustees approved last week.

Commission member Joe Royer said he supported the amended resolution “if it does allow one more month of hope ... to revitalize this historical building.”

But if the Sept. 2 deadline isn’t met, the school board will execute a demolition plan. The contracts are already signed.

Thursday’s amended resolution allows the commission to transfer the property to other groups besides Wigwam Sports and Entertainment. On July 8, the day it was supposed to take ownership of the complex, WSE backed out, saying it needed an extension to put financing in place.

The resolution also only allows the commission to accept transfer of the property if a binding agreement exists, and that transaction has to occur no later than Sept. 2. And it requires the commission to pay a maintenance fee of up to $10,000 per month until the property is transferred.

Thursday’s action is the latest development in the ongoing saga to save the structure.

Not closing was an admission by WSE it didn’t have its financing in place despite earlier assuring the commission it was ready to go.

“I asked a direct question, ‘Are you financially viable?’ “ commission member Kevin Sulc told his colleagues Thursday. “The answer I got and the reality was quite different.”

That has happened too often in deals like this one, Sulc said. And he’s tired of it.

Board members said they need to be “less trusting” in the future, and generally agreed to require clear documentation showing names of investors, amounts invested and other information a business would typically provide before moving ahead with a project.

Greg Winkler, director of the Anderson Economic Development Department, said he has been having meetings with other groups besides WSE that are interested in the property. One wants to obtain state tax credits and convert classrooms into housing. Another group wants to convert the vocational education area into artist studios. And WSE could still possibly be in the mix as owner of the Wigwam gymnasium.

But those ideas have not yet gelled into a solid proposal, Winkler said.

And Sulc, for example, is dubious that another low-income housing complex will be successful because “the reality is that we’ve got a glut in the market.”

“My concern is not what happens in October, Sulc said, “It’s what happens in October five years from now.”

And what he doesn’t want to see, he said, is a failed project where the city would become responsible for demolishing the complex after all.

Like Stu Hirsch on Facebook and follow him @stuhirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.

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