City still waiting on RTC fundsPublished 11:15am Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Fergus Falls City Council members and potential Regional Treatment Center developer Atul Wahi engaged in a verbal “chicken or egg” discussion on Monday night when Wahi spoke on the future of his RTC proposal at the council meeting.
At issue was the council’s request, made at the Feb. 21 meeting, that Wahi submit more detailed information about his finances as a developer and about his financial wherewithal to complete the proposed $100 million project. Also discussed was the request that developing entity Geitso Export Management come up with a deposit of $5 million in some form by the end of March, to function as security for the city in case the plan falls through.
In the case of the financial information, the council has asked for this information since the original request for proposal process began last fall.
Wahi originally planned on showing a PowerPoint presentation to the council, laying out more information about the project, additional information about his two companies (Geitso and Wisesoft), and addressing public record information obtained by the council and The Journal regarding his financial history.
However, since Wahi has not submitted any additional financial information to the city (or any evidence of the $5 million), the council did not want to hear more about the project.
“Until we get the requested information, I don’t know that there’s any need to discuss details of the future,” said Alderman Randy Synstelien.
He was echoed by Jay Cichosz, Stan Synstelien, Pat Connelly and Scott Rachels.
For his part, Wahi said it would be hard to guarantee the council the $5 million and a list of investors before the council agreed to move forward with the project in a non-binding way. The council, on the other hand, said it would be hard to move forward without those assurances already in place.
“If it accomplishes the same thing, it’s a win-win situation for everyone,” said Wahi of adjusting the timeline for him to fulfill the council’s requests.
Wahi and the council went back and forth for several minutes, with the exchange becoming quite blunt, particularly on the side of the council.
“That’s great if (the financing plan) is going to happen contemporaneously, but ahead of that happening, I have serious doubts that you have investors lined up without first the property in your name and some ability to get those tax credits, and I have serious doubts that you have the cash equity to back this thing should it fail,” Cichosz told Wahi. “We’re looking at protecting not only that property but all the taxpayers and the money that’s been set aside by the state.”
Wahi said he could not promise that he would have the money by the end of March, but he said he intends to submit the requested information by that time.
Wahi also spoke briefly on his financial history, saying that the eviction claims against Wisesoft were false (and due to be expunged, he added, although they are still on the Minnesota Courts website as of press time) and explaining that his non-payment of a traffic ticket was due to having switched addresses around the time of the violation. He also noted that he made the same statements to The Journal before the article on his history ran.
The Journal included his explanation of the eviction claims and the traffic ticket in its original story.
Though he primarily took issue with The Journal’s coverage of the information, he added that the council should have addressed him directly if they were concerned about his past.
“If (the city) had confronted me, we would have taken the same steps to address them in a satisfactory manner,” he said.
Though the council maintained its desire to see evidence of Geitso’s financial wherewithal before moving forward on a project, the matter was far from settled in many meeting attendees’ eyes. A group of Friends of the Kirkbride members crowded around Cichosz after the meeting to urge him not to approve the RTC’s destruction under any circumstances, and shortly before the meeting adjourned, local resident Anthony Hicks asked the council to hold out hope for the building and to give Wahi’s plan a greater chance for success.
“I think we’re asking a lot to be done in a very condensed period of time,” he said of the financial requests, noting that most of the council’s statements towards Wahi had been pessimistic, in his opinion.
“That’s one thing that Fergus Falls seems to be good at,” he added. “The one thing we excel in is negativity.”