Recent reporting by the Wichita Eagle uncovered troubling facts from the past of a developer the city is considering partnering with. (See the Wichita Eagle story 35 suits in developer’s past and my blog post Wichita’s Faulty Due Diligence.)
Referring to the C.O.R.E. Redevelopment District project, Wichita Eagle reporter Dion Lefler said this on the KPTS television public affairs program Kansas Week yesterday: “This is a project the city has been working on for years, and it was absolutely astonishing to me that in a relatively short period of time I was able to come up with something — I mean, they have a development department, they have a legal department, they have a police department, they have two ex-investigative reporters on staff. So why this came to light literally on the day of the vote was just astonishing to me.”
So now that it’s been reported that this potential city business partner has some problems in his past. What to do? Here’s some material from the agenda report for the December 16, 2008 Wichita city council meeting:
“ICDC, LLC was formed by Grant Gaudreau and Joel Associates, LLC several years ago to undertake real estate development projects. Joel Associates, LLC is wholly owned by Joseph L. Cramer and Len Marotte. Due to recent developments, ICDC has been reorganized to vest sole ownership of ICDC in Joel Associates. To eliminate any possibility that former ownership interests could adversely impact the viability of the development project, Joseph L. Cramer and Len Marotte have formed a new entity to act as developer of the project. The new entity is Renaissance Square, LLC (the “Developer”), whose sole member is Joel Associates, LLC.”
So in less than two weeks, the person that Wichita economic development director Allen Bell referred to as “principal developer” is now thrown under the bus so that the project can proceed. I would submit, however, that a little shuffling of the ownership structure of the project is hardly assurance to Wichitans that this project is on the up-and-up.
(There’s some confusion as to the spelling of the name “Cramer.” On the document he is to sign, his name is spelled “Kramer.”)
Here’s some unanswered questions:
- Did Allen Bell and city staff know everything about the background of Grant Gaudreau that the Wichita Eagle was able to uncover in a day and a half of reporting? If no, then why not, given the resources the city has at its disposal?
- If they knew these things, what should we make of Allen Bell and city staff’s judgment, in that they thought these things weren’t a problem?
- How much did Joel Associates, LLC pay Grant Gaudreau for his ownership interest in ICDC, LLC?
- And finally, the most important question: when did Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and city council members learn of these problems?
Until we get some definitive answers to these questions, approval of this TIF development should be not be considered.
I think the biggest unanswered question is what is the net worth of Joe Cramer and Len Marotte and has the city even asked for their financial statements and their personal guaranties for the 11.5 million. Also is their net worth enough to assume they can back up their guaranty and handle a project of this size. The second major question is what is these guys track record in the real estate development business. What deals have they done. Do they have the expertise and staff to do a deal like this. These are the minimum someone should ask and review in a deal of this size.
Does the city even have anyone on staff that has the expertise to analyse these guys and make an expert decision. I don’t think anyone on the council or staff has proven they have the business judgement to make a deal like this. They need help badly.