Ryan Howard/Daily Journal About 40 people attended Monday’s council meeting in anticipation of the discussion dealing with the redevelopment of the Regional Treatment Center campus and the issue of whether the council should award the police station project to a local contractor.

Archived Story

Council rejects RTC proposal [UPDATED]

Published 11:11am Tuesday, April 3, 2012 Updated 11:40am Tuesday, April 3, 2012

After a long discussion in closed and open session on Monday night, the Fergus Falls City Council unanimously rejected developer Geitso Export Management’s proposal to repurpose the Kirkbride building into a multi-use facility called the Global XChange Village. However, the council left the door open for Geitso CEO Atul Wahi —and other developers who didn’t submit final proposals in the city’s recent Regional Treatment Center redevelopment campaign — to return with redevelopment plans as the city looks at the next step for the building.

At a work session before the council meeting, Kent Mattson, special advisor on the RTC, reiterated that the city had asked Wahi and Geitso to provide information in multiple categories by April 1: what Geitso’s financial status was, what kinds of partners or financial backing the project had, what was the likelihood that Geitso would be able to front $5 million in a security deposit on the project, and which buildings on the RTC campus would not be essential to historical preservation.

The result?

“I think he has shown you he’s got a high level of interest in moving forward with the project, but nothing in the way of anything that would allow you to objectively judge whether or not he is financially qualified to do this,” Mattson said.

Wahi, who was at Monday’s meeting, did provide non-essential building information and a limited amount of equity information, some of it confidential. But on the whole, said Mattson, Wahi did not provide the information asked for by the council, not even anything as basic as a tax document or any sort of substantive financial statement on Geitso.

During the actual meeting, the council met in closed session, not inviting Wahi to join them, for several minutes before returning to the council chamber. They quickly made it known that they would take a multi-path approach of rejecting Wahi’s proposal, seeking information about other proposals for the property (including another Wahi proposal, should he make one), and beginning demolition discussions and plans – likely focusing first on demolishing buildings deemed non-essential to the RTC’s historical integrity.

What followed was more than an hour of back and forth discussion, with residents and Wahi claiming that the city was not making it easy to start an RTC project and the council members saying that they couldn’t move forward with the plan until Wahi gave them what they asked for.

“From what I’ve been able to review, which is everything you have given, I don’t believe you have any assets, I don’t believe your company has any assets, I don’t believe you have the ability to post any amount of money to the city personally so that the taxpayers are protected if you fail,” said Alderman Jay Cichosz.

Though the council vote was unanimous, Mayor Hal Leland disapproved of the decision.

“I do want to say thank you for putting forth an extremely fine effort with a great vision to try and redevelop the RTC,” he told Wahi, adding that the council had put too many roadblocks in front of potential developers and encouraging Wahi to come back with another proposal.

“I will come back tomorrow,” Wahi replied with a smile.

Several council members emphasized that their decision to reject the proposal does not mean that the RTC will be bulldozed. There will be a work session before the April 16 meeting to discuss the building’s future.

“There has not been any discussion that I have been involved in where we’ve talked about what’s going to happen to the RTC if the (request for proposals) doesn’t go through,” said Eric Shelstad. “So, in spite of what everybody’s heard, nothing’s been talked about. Nothing.”

  • nanajean

    I have to disagree with Eric regarding have alternative plans for the RTC. Mayor Leland, and Jay Cichocz both mentioned in their arguments last nite, Leland stated that he hopes that the idea of green space and more housing does not come to fruition because we have no need for more housing. Also stated that he really doesn’t want to see the green space and additional housing, and would like to see jobs created. He then continued on to say he is not in favor of the re-creation plans. Pat Connelly once again was complaining that every one is picking on him. They forget that the job requires that they actively participate in the cities business. This is not a job if you want the warm fuzzies. They should be aware that if they continue to not do their jobs, that they will not need to worry about re-election, and perhaps the state attorney general may be interested in the things that pass for public officials doing their jobs.

  • J Mullins

    Doubtful that the liberal Democrat attorney general would mess with the five member liberal majority of the council, or make difficulty for the liberal Democrat mayor.

    Th Daily Journal did a commendable job in bringing the information about the prospective developer to the attention of the council, and forcing their hand to exercise due diligence in protecting the taxpayers from a possible loss of the RTC to a developer with no assets or backers.

  • P. Carlson

    After 7 years of following everything that can and will cause tax increases, I am saying good luck and best wishes to the taxpayers of Fergus Falls. We have sold our Fergus Falls home. The RTC has been a huge concern until now, my opinion no longer matters. I shall still be very vocal on things pertaining to Otter Tail and Wilkin counties as we have property in both counties. Taxes there are huge, so will be following them closely. Good luck and hope some step up to keep the council in line so people can afford to pay taxes and stay in Fergus Falls.

  • nanajean

    What will be really interesting is who is is going to benefit from the demolition of the RTC if it comes to that. We have 2 people who I think are standing in the wings, waiting like vultures.

    • fergusnative

      It has been 5 years since the city acquired this property from the state. In that time only 2 development options have made press, both with questionable merit and/or backing. It would be awesome to save the structure as a whole but if there truly are 2 waiting in the wings, let them go after it.
      Personally, I think it should become the home for the historical society and develop the parts they don’t want. But I suppose the precast concrete building they presently use also has some historic significance.

      • nanajean

        Please see my comments on the Mayors reaction to the councils reluctance to go ahead with the plans.

    • holly

      If the “Save the Kirkbride” group really wants to prevent the demolition, perhaps they should be out there actively looking for and working with qualified developers.

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