SOUTH BEND – The St. Joseph County Commissioners tabled an agreement that would pave the way for an out-of-town property developer to purchase the district-owned Portage Manor campus after critics questioned whether a private takeover could displace assisted living residents Homeland.
Opponents of the deal also asked questions about whether the real estate company was properly screened and criticized the behind-the-scenes work that led to the proposal, which was first publicly discussed on Tuesday, despite officials starting talks with the developer in early February.
The discussion at the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday came after Bill Schalliol, the countyâs director of economic development, asked commissioners to approve a “letter of intent” from Magnus Capital Partners to consider building an apartment complex on the property .
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According to documents presented to commissioners, the MoU would allow Magnus to enter into exclusive negotiations with the county to purchase the 112-acre property, which includes not only the Portage Manor residential complex but also the surrounding vacant arable land.
Portage Manor’s campus is bordered by Portage Avenue, Indiana Toll Road, Chet Wagoner Little League Fields, and Boland Drive.
According to the letter of intent, the developer’s goal is to reach an agreement on the sale of the property within six months. Magnus intends to build a multi-phase “worker housing project” under an apartment complex brand it will market as “HÅM Flats”.
Schalliol and County Commissioner President Andy Kostielney said the sale of the state-owned property could raise money that could be used for costly, overdue improvements to 115-year-old Portage Manor. Kostielney said the facility needed upgrades that could cost up to $ 12 million.
“This gives us some financial stream that we could use for these building improvements,” said Schalliol.
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The letter of intent indicates that parts of the land, including the actual Portage Manor site, could be reserved for further use by the county. Officials have also been investigating the use of some of the land for a new garage for the county’s highway department.
“That doesn’t seem transparent”
Opponents noted, however, that the proposal seems to leave Magnus room to take control of Portage Manor, “either in the form of a redevelopment of Portage Manor as a component of the project or an operational integration of Portage Manor into the project”.
If the existing health facility is not included in the company’s development plans, Magnus still retains the right to ârefuse purchaseâ and would take over the building first if the county wanted to get rid of it in the future.
Critics fear that this could mean the demolition of the building or the displacement of its residents, including the elderly and people with intellectual disabilities.
“It is very disappointing to see that a private company that has not been screened by community input has the opportunity to buy and clear 112 acres of land,” said Roy Saenz, a Portage Manor resident, during the public comment at the meeting of the commissioners on Tuesday.
“That’s just not the case,” replied Kostielney. âThis is the beginning of the contemplation. This is not something we are pushing at this point in time to evacuate anyone or make significant changes to Portage Manor. “
Opponents weren’t convinced. Jim McKinnies, a pastor and real estate agent, said giving a property developer control of the property would be a “slippery slope” as the higher property values ââfrom the housing project would likely make Portage Manor demolished more attractive.
McKinnies also criticized district officials for pursuing the deal without public participation.
“That doesn’t seem transparent,” said McKinnies. “This is something most people have no idea what they will read in the papers.”
Commissioner Derek Dieter asked Schalliol how the proposal came about and pressed for details about how long Schalliol had been in contact with Magnus.
Schalliol initially said he did not remember exactly when the talks began, but the company reached out to the city of South Bend first, which then forwarded the request to the county.
A Magnus manager who called the meeting said the company contacted city officials in February. After further questioning by Dieter, Schalliol said he spoke to Magnus officials for the first time in March or April and has had 10 conversations with the company since then.
Dieter also questioned whether Schalliol had presented the proposal to Portage Manor’s board of directors. Schalliol replied that he had not discussed it with the full board but had at least one meeting with Patty Godsey and Mike Misch, the chairman and vice chairman, respectively.
Godsey and Misch did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. Attempts by the Tribune to reach them by phone were unsuccessful.
“There are far too many unanswered questions,” said Dieter. “The whole thing is very annoying for me, how it turned out for us.”
The commissioners finally voted in favor of presenting the proposal. Dieter said he was against the project overall but voted to put it on to give district officials the opportunity to “get straight” about the origins and details of the agreement.