FOX19 Investigates: Where did Anderson Township's $6M go? - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

FOX19 Investigates: Where did Anderson Township's $6M go?

ANDERSON TWP, OH (FOX19) -

A Cincinnati-area township's leader blames the President of the United States for the reason a decade-old parking garage project still isn't finished.

In 2006, Anderson Township leaders voted to give a developer $6 million in tax dollars to build a two story parking garage on land the township doesn't own.

Construction was supposed to start on the project in July 2007 after Anderson Township officials announced the parking garage-movie theater-condominium project. The township signed a lease agreement with a private developer to spend $6 million on a two-story parking deck under the theater/condominium project.

The total cost was $35 million. Cincinnati developer JFP Group, Inc. would come up with the rest of the funding for the condominium and theater.

Plans show the original structure was designed to be seven stories, would include 50 units and a multiple-screen movie theater.

Anderson Township cut the first check to the JFP Group in November 2007. Through December 2009, records show the township paid a total of $5,876,107.87 to the developer for design, architecture, lawyers, materials, groundwork, construction and consultants.

As of this report, the site is an empty lot with pillars, sections of concrete pre-fabricated slabs and rusted rebar sticking up through part of the foundation for the parking garage.

TIMELINE OF DELAYS

Township meeting minutes show the township didn't have everything in place before announcing the groundbreaking in July 2007. It took another six months before construction would start on the Anderson Towne Place project after the July 2007 groundbreaking.

Click here to view the timeline of delays if you're using a mobile device

THE SPENDING

In February, FOX19 filed an Ohio Open Records Act request to take a look at the entire file associated with the Anderson Towne Place project. It took township administrator Vicky Earhart only two business days to gather and open 12 years of records associated with the project.

A FOX19 review of the file showed 22 payments to the developer, JFP Group's LLC: JFP Anderson Towne Place, LLC. The payments totaled $5.8 million.

For most of the spending, the township's records provided detailed invoices to show the money was spent on the project's design, photocopies, architecture, construction, consultants and lawyers.

Some spending highlights:

-Retaining wall: $18,500

-Design, construction documents, architecture, surveying: $320,000

-Legal fees: $56,467 (doesn't include all legal spending)

-“Special Construction”: $2,020,164.90

-“Earthwork Management”: $1,525,583.80

-Construction Management Fee: $19,500 per month

At the site today, there are no construction materials visible. The township told FOX19 the millions in pre-fabricated concrete construction pieces are sitting in a Michigan storage lot awaiting shipment when—or if—construction of the Anderson Towne Place restarts.

TOWNSHIP PRESIDENT BLAMES OBAMA

We interviewed Anderson Township president Russell Jackson on March 12 to find out what happened to this project and what the township plans to do to recover the $6 million in tax dollars is spent to build the garage. Jackson, who admitted he was “annoyed” that we were questioning the project, placed blame on the President of the United States for the reason the $6 million project failed.

“Maybe it's the President of the United States that took the country down the doldrums we've gone into for the last eight years and why we had all these businesses collapsing and why we had all these bankruptcy cases--we made a decision based on the facts we had at the time,” Jackson told FOX19.

The economy—and the economy alone—was the sole reason the project failed, Jackson explained.

Financing the project through a public-private venture was the smartest way to make sure the town had a public parking garage, Jackson said. “You make these decisions based on the facts you have before you. So, anyone who wants to say why did you invest that money—it's nonsense—we did it because we had good reason to do it,” Jackson said.

“Why do we have a triple A Moody's credit rating?” Jackson asked, “Because we try to do the right thing. Why have we only had one tax levy in almost 15 years—one tax levy? Because we try to do the right thing and spend the money wisely,” Jackson said.

Jackson said no one in Anderson was upset about the project, aside from what he described as a “trouble maker” who contacted us about the project, “You have some people call because they want to stir the trouble. This has not been any secret,” Jackson said.

FOX19 did receive a tip, asking us to investigate the Anderson Towne Place parking garage, but it was not a phone call. We received a typed letter in the mail, explaining the public's concerns over the spending on the project and nothing to show for it. The tip was unsigned and the envelope did not contain a return address.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

As of this report, Anderson Township still doesn't own the property where the $6 million dollars went to build a parking garage. The bank, that started the foreclosure process on JFP, owns the property for now, according to township president Russell Jackson.

The town still holds a lease purchase agreement on the property. The problem for now, the township can't find a developer to finish the job.

Anderson Township has no clue what will go up at the site—if anything.

“You're starting back—it sounds like—at ground zero,” FOX19 investigative reporter Jody Barr asked Jackson. “Absolutely, yes. And, what he (JFP Group) planned for it and what its ultimate use is, who the heck knows,” Jackson told FOX19.

Jackson said he's heard from 30 separate developers with interest in the project, but Jackson did not have any names. The township also doesn't have anything in writing from any developer in regards to interest in the Anderson Towne Place project, Jackson confirmed.

“It'll happen. It'll work itself out,” Jackson told FOX19, “Too bad we had to wait so long, but sometimes those things happen.”

The township planned to recover the $6 million in tax dollars on the parking garage by classifying it as a Tax Increment Financing project, which would allow the township to collect fees and tax revenues generated by the project to pay back the $6 million.

Jackson initially told the public it would take 20 years to repay the $6 million in TIF dollars had the project gone to plan and opened on time. Now, it could take another decade to find a developer to start from scratch.

Jackson still defends his decision to support this project from the beginning, “It's not a question. It's not a rub. You're the only person asking these questions and the few people that call you because they want to stir trouble,” Jackson told FOX19.

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