INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) –Voluntarily closed for safety concerns in September, the Regional Operations Center has cost the city of Indianapolis more than a quarter of a million dollars in rent alone in the six months since the temporary closure, according to interviews and analysis compiled during an I-Team 8 investigation.
And while city administrators argue the ROC — as it’s known — will again serve the community well as an emergency operations and law enforcement hub, it could be another 30 to 60 days before it reopens.
Repairs and building modifications still need to be completed, according to city officials and the owner of the building, Alex Carroll.
Carroll declined an on camera interview this week but told a reporter by phone he was still waiting on the city to obtain the proper permits needed to start the work. Spokesmen for both the state and city code enforcement told I-Team 8 the building variance permits are in order, but that there may be some loose ends to tie up between the parties.
“We were a little disappointed to have found some of the issues. We had hoped that the landlord would’ve maybe been privy to some of those ahead of time and would’ve self corrected,” Deputy Director of Public Safety Valerie Washington said during a recent interview. “I think once we can get the life safety issues corrected, the building will serve us well. Our EOC workers , police district workers like the building they love the location. We know the neighborhood wants us in that building. So we are trying to make the best of it and livable and safe for our employees.”
The building, which provided state-of-the art surveillance and security when the city played host to the Super Bowl in 2012, later became home to more than 100 IMPD officers and personnel from Homeland Security. That was until Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs ordered the building cleared last fall, after learning from code enforcement and fire officials that the south end of the former Eastgate Mall may pose safety and fire risks.
“I cannot be the director of public safety and have someone in the building that they deem to be unsafe,” Riggs said during a news conference in September.
Among the issues cited by the city’s safety officials: a fire alarm system that couldn’t be heard in some areas, gaps on some of the outside walls, and a lack of a firewall in an area where safety officials worried could pose a fire threat. Only a few IMPD officers have remained behind to provide security detail, public safety officials told I-Team 8.
“The walls didn’t go all the way to the deck and therefore it’s leaving open areas for fire to travel,” explained Chief Fred Pervine, division chief with Indianapolis Fire Department.
As snow piles up outside for the former mall, so does the time the building remains empty and the cost to taxpayers.
Lease agreement called ‘one-sided’
Each month, the city of Indianapolis is required to pay more than $57,000 in rent to the landlord, 401-Public Safety LLC, a company associated with Carroll. After 10 years, the rent increases to $63,000 a month for the remainder of the lease. Since the ROC’s temporary closure, rent alone has topped $342,000, an I-team 8 analysis showed.
Washington said that money is being placed into an escrow account at Wells Fargo until the necessary repairs are made, but acknowledged the money is still being spent.
“We needed to ensure that the city did not default on this lease; it could have caused more long-term damage than what was necessary,” Washington added.
The 25-year lease also requires that the city maintain hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of insurance each year. Among the points of contention has been that the original lease from 2011 requires the city to accept the building “as is.”
When asked if the city got a raw deal, Washington said, “I think the lease is definitely not favorable to the city in many ways, and I think at this point in time we have signed the lease , we have accepted the lease and we’re trying to make the most of it.”
During an interview in September with WISH-TV, Carroll spoke about the details of the lease, saying, “The terms allow for the city to get the very best possible price per square foot, but it makes the city responsible for everything.” The lease was signed by former DPS Director Frank Straub and Carroll.
A section of the 2011 lease agreement reads as follows: “In the event of any defect or deficiency of any nature in the premises or any property or fixture or other item constituting a portion thereof, whether patent or latent, landlord shall have no responsibility or liability with respect thereto.”
The deal does give the city the option to purchase the building after 25 years.
Unable to get out of the deal, the city also agreed in December to pay Carroll, the building owner, as part of a settlement agreement to make repairs and compensate him for maintenance costs, insurance and use of his building’s data lines.
“I’m sure that the taxpayers’ money wasn’t spent as wisely — at least my opinion. This is a one-sided lease,” said Councillor Joseph Simpson.
Simpson is the chairman of the City-County Council’s ROC investigative committee, which over the past several weeks has been looking into how and why the city entered this lease.
Politics at play?
Critics inside the city government say the committee’s effort is political theater, given that the council approved the original lease three years ago. Simpson, who was not a member of the council at the time, doesn’t see it that way.
“Well what’s wrong with this picture is that someone made a bad deal and somebody agreed to it. And we want to find out who did that,” Simpson said.
The deal dates back to former DPS director Straub, who signed it in 2011 in the run up to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. During that time, the building and its gadgets provided detailed surveillance and security — and in the year that followed became home to law enforcement: more than 100 IMPD officers and members of Homeland Security used the building. It also included community space where neighborhood crime watch meetings were held. That was until those safety issues sent everyone packing.
Anxious for a returned police ‘presence’
Standing inside an auto repair shop in the Eastgate area, Sharon Tabard recalled a time long before the concept of the ROC, when things in her neighborhood weren’t so great.
“Because it sat empty for several years, there were gangs, homeless, drugs, prostitution out of that building. So constant police runs for IMPD,” said Tabard, who is also the president of the Eastgate Neighborhood Association.
While Tabard acknowledged that crime can happen anywhere in the city, the recent perceived rise in violence has her anxious for a return of the East District officers.
“Even if they are leaving roll call to go to another location, that presence is comforting,” Tabard said.
Unconcerned with what city coffers are paying for that or how much tax money is spent, Tabard says she’ll leave the negotiating to the landlord and tenant. She simply wants to see officers back in her neighborhood.
To find a list of documents related to the Regional Operations Center, click the following link to the City-County Council’s website.