Council rejects RTC proposalPublished 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.
“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.”