Ambrose sues city over Waterside site

Inside INdiana Business

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS — The ongoing fight over the former GM Stamping Plant property in downtown Indianapolis has taken another major turn. Indianapolis-based Ambrose Property Group, which had previously been redeveloping the 100-acre site into the $1.4 billion Waterside mixed-use development, has filed suit against the city of Indianapolis for threatening to acquire the property via eminent domain. The firm is also seeking a preliminary injunction preventing the city from attempting to acquire the land.

Ambrose first announced plans to offload the property in late September, citing a shift in its business focus to e-commerce and industrial development projects. Less than a week later, the city said it planned to use eminent domain to acquire the property.

Ambrose says the project agreement between the two parties prevents the city from using eminent domain. However, in a letter sent to Ambrose in mid-October, the city said there was no violation. 

“That provision was in the contract because the City had previously threatened to take the property, and we needed assurance the City would not try to take it again,” Ambrose said in a statement Tuesday. “Accordingly, the contract protected us from the City trying to take the land. Based on that promise, we invested millions in the redevelopment of the property.”

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Marion Superior Court, Ambrose says the city informed the developer it had “secretly ‘promised’ the Waterside site to Infosys,” even though Ambrose had been awarded a contract to buy the property. Infosys eventually moved the project slated for that site, its $245 million U.S. Education Center, to the former Indianapolis International Airport terminal.

Ambrose claims the city this year promised the site to another developer for the construction of a new soccer stadium to be used by the Indy Eleven. 

“By unlawfully inserting itself in the sales process, the City has not only directly removed one potential buyer of Waterside from the market (the owner of Indy Eleven), but has also scared off several other purchasers who could have taken the Waterside vision that Ambrose created and made it into a reality for the City’s residents to enjoy for decades to come,” the lawsuit says.

The two parties met on October 23. Ambrose Chief Executive Officer Aasif Bade said the city offered to purchase the property for $6 million, which he claimed was “far below its current market value” of more than $65 million.

Donald Morgan, Corporation Counsel for the city of Indianapolis, told Inside INdiana Business, “Out of respect for the judicial process, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

You can read the full statement from Ambrose Property Group below:

“Our company filed a lawsuit today against the City of Indianapolis for breaching its agreement with Ambrose and for violating the Indiana Constitution. We are disappointed it has come to this, but the City’s illegal threats and actions have left us with no option but to protect our rights through a lawsuit.

Our contract stated the City would not seek to take the GM stamping plant property, otherwise known as Waterside, via eminent domain. That provision was in the contract because the City had previously threatened to take the property, and we needed assurance the City would not try to take it again. Accordingly, the contract protected us from the City trying to take the land.  Based on that promise, we invested millions in the redevelopment of the property.

Yet, on October 2, 2019, the City publicly declared it was going to take the property through eminent domain and that it had already set the process in motion.  Those actions not only breached the contract, but scared off several potential buyers who were interested in moving forward with development at Waterside.  The City’s unlawful threats have thus frozen all activity at the site because no developer will invest in the property until the City’s threats are removed. 

By trying to take the property through eminent domain, the City has also violated the Indiana Constitution, as it protects property owners from having their land taken solely so the City can give it to another private party. 

The sooner this dispute is resolved, the sooner our community can begin to reap the benefits of the property’s development. We look forward to a resolution of this matter.”

Taylor Schaffer, deputy chief of staff for Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office, also released a statement to Inside INdiana Business:

“City officials worked with Ambrose over the last year, at their request, to discuss an amendment to the original project agreement. In the middle of those productive conversations, Ambrose officials contacted the city on September 26th to state that they were ending negotiations and abandoning their plans to develop Waterside.

Since that time, the city’s stance has been clear and unwavering: if Ambrose is unwilling or unable to develop this important piece of property, the city should have a role in ensuring that what comes next is in keeping with the needs and ambitions of the surrounding neighborhood. Despite numerous requests to sit down and chart a course toward amicable resolution, Ambrose has preferred to respond with public statements that mischaracterize the city’s actions both before and after the Ambrose decision to abruptly end their plans for development at the site.

Today’s decision by Ambrose to pursue litigation is the latest in a series of disappointing steps away from the negotiating table. While we are prepared to correct the facts surrounding this matter, and defend the city’s rights under the law, our main goal continues to be pursuing an outcome that is in the best interests of our near-Westside residents.”

You can view the lawsuit by clicking here.

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