Councilman questioning city’s use of third-party firms

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – One City Councilman said what he saw with his own eyes makes him question the effectiveness of hiring third-party consultants. Russ Jehl (R-2) said the latest consultant hired by the city didn’t do enough.

Jehl has been sitting on a few videos he took at the International Council of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas. The third-party vendor Indigo Centers was there representing Fort Wayne to help bring businesses to the south side. When Jehl, a commercial real estate developer there on business, went by the booth two times it was empty. On other occasions he did find a representative there.

He took video of the empty booth along with the booths next to it which were decorated and had representatives there. On a table in the booth there was a booklet where Fort Wayne was featured on one page. Jehl didn’t want to release the videos without giving Indigo Centers a change.

“I saw them in action for two days and what I saw was unconventional, but they deserved the chance to produce,” Jehl said.

In a three page e-mail response of Jehl’s comments, Indigo Centers President Jeffery Higgins admitted the company could’ve spent more time on the look of the booth, but when it was empty he said it was for good reason.

“Regarding the Las Vegas ICSC convention, Mr. Jehl’s understanding of how a business convention works is grossly erroneous and for him to pontificate without even a rudimentary understanding of the basic facts is highly irresponsible,” Higgins wrote. “In order to maximize our efforts for the City of Fort Wayne at ICSC, we had pre-scheduled meetings with retailers and other key real estate professionals. We do this for all of our clients and scheduling meetings with our contacts and leveraging our relationships is the only way to approach an ICSC convention. Perhaps Mr. Jehl would have extracted more personal benefit and created more value if he had scheduled meetings in advance. Walking around a convention hall and thinking one is going to create value is not a strategy; it’s a waste of time.”

What Indigo Group did produce during its 12 month contract with the city is a list of several dozen businesses they reached out to about the area. That’s what was laid out as the goal of the contract.

“We not only met our contractual obligations but exceeded and delivered more than expected,” Higgins wrote.

“A list? Ask the community and southeast Fort Wayne if they’re happy with having a list as a result,” Jehl said.

“I’m happy somewhat with the work that’s been done,” Councilman Glynn Hines (D-6) said. “When you don’t have a measurable outcome which would actually be a company or two deciding to establish a business in the south side of Fort Wayne that would be the ultimate satisfaction.”

Jehl said what he saw in Las Vegas is another reason why he wants the city to think twice about hiring outside, out-of-state consultants.

“We continue to use third-party, out-of-state consultants, and our parameters for oversight and our parameters for success are very nebulous,” Jehl said.

However, Hines said there was very little interest from local developers in the area. Moving forward, those local entities are going to be reengaged.

“My response not only to Councilman Jehl but any other local developer – step up to the plate,” Hines said.

More of Higgins email included his response to Jehl’s grievances in the media.

“A reasonable way to address an issue or a grievance is to do it in timely manner,” Higgins wrote. “I think that is a fair approach in which to express your opinion. To publicly share a grievance nearly 8 months after the fact is peculiar and leads one to think there is a hidden agenda.”

“I commend the City of Fort Wayne for being proactive and engage a retail recruitment firm,” he continued. “The partnership my firm had with the City was outstanding.”

Fort Wayne Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend did not return NewsChannel 15’s request for an interview.

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