INDIANAPOLIS - The chief executive officer of Indianapolis-based Ambrose Property Group says the firm is preparing for litigation regarding the future of the former GM Stamping Plant site. In a response to a letter from the city of Indianapolis this week, Aasif Bade says the city's continued threat of acquiring the site of the $1.4 billion Waterside redevelopment project through eminent domain "has violated our rights and is harming the community by putting Waterside in a state where no buyer will move forward."

Ambrose announced late last month its decision to sell the property as part of a shifting of the firm's focus to e-commerce and industrial development efforts. In a statement released Thursday evening, Bade said the decision was also made because "the City failed to partner with us in ways consistent with a project of this size and scope."

Shortly after Ambrose's announcement, the city announced its plan to seize the land via eminent domain.

"Immediately after we announced our intent to find a new buyer, our broker started receiving calls from local and national developers interested in Waterside. One very large national real estate owner – who specializes in developing projects in Opportunity Zones – was particularly interested and well positioned to potentially carry Waterside forward," said Bade. "Unfortunately, the City of Indianapolis stepped in – on October 2, 2019 – and unlawfully threatened to take Waterside through eminent domain. While their misguided actions are illegal according to Indiana law and an indisputable breach of the City’s contractual agreement with us, they have also corrupted our sales process and scared legitimate buyers away from Waterside."

Chicago-based law firm Quinn Emanuel, which is representing Ambrose, sent a letter to the city dated October 17, saying the city is liable for millions of dollars for violating its project agreement with Ambrose.

Taylor Schaffer, deputy chief of staff for Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, provided a statement to Inside INdiana Business:

Yesterday, the city provided a written response to the legal counsel for Ambrose, with the intention that communication might more productively move forward at the negotiation table, rather than in the press. Last night’s public statement in response to this communication is yet another disappointing development and is quite concerning for the city. 

We will allow the city’s letter to largely speak for itself, but would simply note that eighteen months ago, a project agreement was executed in which Ambrose committed to developing the former stamping-plant site and the city committed $26 million in taxpayer money to assist them in that project.

As our letter indicates, Ambrose made clear to the city in September that it was not going to move forward with the project it was contractually committed to complete unless the city would guarantee it at least another $10 million in taxpayer money. Shortly after that, Ambrose announced that it was going to sell the property “to focus our business on e-commerce and industrial development.”

Despite all of this, our letter makes clear that the city remains very interested in meeting with Ambrose to discuss how we can collectively move forward and catalyze the redevelopment of this critically important site.

Ambrose Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Responsibility Mali Simone Jeffers will this weekend join Valley Neighborhood Association President Jay Napoleon on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick to talk more about the future of the Waterside project.

You can read the full statement from Bade below:

The City’s threat to unlawfully take Waterside through eminent domain has surprised many in our community, including us. Waterside was created through community conversations – with The Valley neighborhood, West Indy, Central Indiana Community Foundation and many others – and our community continues to want this development.

As the owners of this site, we want that, too. Our focus has always been to do what’s best for Waterside, the surrounding communities and Indianapolis. That’s why we have invested millions to prepare the former GM Stamping Plant site for what has become the largest redevelopment project in the history of our great city.

Recently, we announced our intent to seek a new buyer that could execute on the next phase of Waterside. This wasn’t our first choice, but it was the right step after the City failed to partner with us in ways consistent with a project of this size and scope. Our decision is also in keeping with our focus shifting away from mixed use and toward industrial and e-commerce projects.

Some have said our search for a new buyer means we are “scrapping” or “abandoning” our vision for Waterside. Nothing could be further from the truth. We remain committed and our number one goal is helping to ensure Waterside happens as the community envisions it.

Immediately after we announced our intent to find a new buyer, our broker started receiving calls from local and national developers interested in Waterside. One very large national real estate owner – who specializes in developing projects in Opportunity Zones – was particularly interested and well positioned to potentially carry Waterside forward.

Unfortunately, the City of Indianapolis stepped in – on October 2, 2019 – and unlawfully threatened to take Waterside through eminent domain. While their misguided actions are illegal according to Indiana law and an indisputable breach of the City’s contractual agreement with us, they have also corrupted our sales process and scared legitimate buyers away from Waterside. The City has violated our rights and is harming the community by putting Waterside in a state where no buyer will move forward.

In addition, Mayor Joe Hogsett and his Chief of Staff Thomas Cook have been actively spreading misinformation designed to damage our company’s reputation and drive the value of Waterside down, apparently in an attempt to ensure that the City can seize the valuable property for far below its fair market value. Their actions have threatened the future of this project for our community and harmed Ambrose by wrongly casting a cloud over our title to the property.

No one should have to endure politically motivated and illegal threats from their Mayor. When we announced our search for a new buyer, we had hoped to take the high road and move past the City’s lack of support for a transformational development like Waterside. The City’s unlawful actions have forced us to prepare for litigation to protect our rights. We will prevail and we will return to seeking a new buyer that can execute upon our community’s shared vision of what Waterside can be.