FOREST PARK — A mayor and council meeting in Forest Park Monday evening showed that the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority is close to closing a deal with Project Jasper — just not as close as it thought.
“I was there for the work session and everything was fine,” said Fred Bryant, executive director of the Forest Park/ Fort Gillem Local Redevelopment Authority Tuesday morning. “Then all of the sudden, the bombshell just dropped.”
Confusion about rack and conveyor systems left over from an old Army distribution center in one of the buildings Project Jasper is poised to buy caused the council to table three items that would have brought the negotiations closer to an end. Project Jasper is the code name for the company negotiating to buy a portion of Fort Gillem. The company will remain anonymous until the deal is completed.
The tabled amendments would have put the full faith and credit of the Forest Park government behind the agreement of the URA and the Army — meaning that the city would pick up any debt the URA may not be able to repay the Army for Gillem in the future.
But the council decided not to make that agreement until the confusion surrounding the racks had been sorted out. The deal with Project Jasper, rumored to close Wednesday, will likely take more time.
“We should have had all the information, but here we are trying to guarantee a deal and we don’t even know what the deal is,” said Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart at the council meeting.
But Bryant said Tuesday morning that the confusion was worked out and the delay won’t be long.
“It appears now that they will be able to move all of those racks and conveyor systems by this weekend,” Bryant said.
The storage racks left in building 516 were the problem. The racks were supposed to be removed by a company the city contracted. The company would then pay the city in order to keep the equipment and the funds would go toward Gillem.
Bryant said the contract slated the project to end at the end of May and that Project Jasper had agreed to allow the removal of the equipment to go on until closing if necessary.
But the racks were still there just days away from the projected closing date and Project Jasper wasn’t happy about it. In an email to the mayor and council, the anonymous company said it intended to keep any of the racks left in the building once it moved in.
“Based on the month and half we’ve already lost in the schedule, salvaging materials still left in the building will not be salvaged for reuse because the demo contractor will have zero time to take the care required to remove anything remaining for reuse,” the letter read. “Everything in the building will be carted off for scrap.”
The letter went on to say the city had “virtually unlimited time to work on getting the rack out” and that the company told the URA several times that “removing the rack was a time-consuming operation. Yet the removal didn’t start until late and no effort that I know of has been made to increase the number of workers removing the rack.”
Nobody at the meeting Monday knew enough about the contract the city had with the company removing and buying the racks and conveyor systems— or whether the city could offer less of the rack for a reduced price if it couldn’t all be removed from building 516.
“If we’ve contracted to sell them to some third party and we can’t because now we’ve contracted to sell them to Jasper, we’ve just bought ourselves a lawsuit,” Lockhart said.
Bryant said Tuesday that the company contracted to remove and buy the equipment would figure out what percentage they had removed and pay the city that percent of the profits if all of the equipment wasn’t out by the time the deal was ready to close.
But he said all the equipment will be out by that time.
“It’s fair to say [Project Jasper] is frustrated, but since we haven’t closed yet, there’s nothing there to impede their work,” Bryant said.
Project Jasper isn’t the only party getting frustrated toward the end of the deal.
Lockhart acknowledged how frustrated the council and residents have felt about the ongoing deals with the Army and Project Jasper. He also pointed out how necessary that frustration is.
“We all are exhausted with Fort Gillem,” Lockhart said. “I think all of us want to get a deal done. But we don’t want to get any deal done, we want to get a deal done that’s right for Forest Park,” Lockhart said. “Pardon the delay, please — it’s us trying to do right by you.”