Developer: Elwood suit has no merit
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org April 19, 2013 9:16PM
Updated: May 22, 2013 6:46AM
A legal dispute between corporate giant CenterPoint Properties Trust and the tiny village of Elwood is heating up in a Cook County court.
Elwood sued the Oak Brook-based developer in February after village officials said the company wouldn’t reveal how it spent taxpayer funds that helped kick-start a billion-dollar intermodal transportation hub and business park built on former Joliet arsenal land. Also, the village said thousands of jobs and ancillary development promised by the company never materialized.
In a response filed Friday, CenterPoint said it wanted to set the record straight.
“We don’t know why the village has filed this lawsuit or begun a public relations campaign against us — all funded with taxpayer dollars — as Elwood has benefitted so much from our development and should be our partner in its continued success,” CenterPoint general counsel Daniel Hemmer said in a prepared statement. “CenterPoint has always stood ready to provide any appropriate information to the village and to meet with them over any concerns they may have.”
In its court response, CenterPoint said the case could be boiled down to three truths: “CenterPoint did nothing wrong. The village of Elwood suffered no harm. And the complaint in this case has no merit whatsoever.”
The company also claims that Elwood’s lawsuit could be an attempt to deflect attention away from the village’s “own financial distress.”
Also, CenterPoint’s response states that the company’s investment revitalized a community that “ ... was on the verge of becoming home to one of America’s largest landfills.”
The company promised town leaders that the Deer Run Industrial Park in Elwood would spawn more development and jobs.
In exchange, Elwood officials agreed to help CenterPoint with $150 million in tax dollars through a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district. But the village only issued $88 million in TIF notes, the company states in its response. And while there isn’t enough in newly generated property tax revenue to repay principal and interest on the notes, that is a risk CenterPoint and other noteholders bear, not the village, the company’s response states.
“Elwood, for its part, has not been required to spend a single dime on the project,” according to the CenterPoint response.
But Elwood wants to see how the TIF dollars were spent, and it said in its lawsuit that 12 years after the project started, the promised jobs and development never materialized.
Village attorney Mary Riordan said CenterPoint admits in its Friday filing that it didn’t live up to its promises of jobs and revenues from the industrial park.
“And now, CenterPoint is refusing to answer the simple question — where did the money go?” she wrote in a statement.
Village President William Offerman said via a press release in February that Elwood has a “fiduciary duty” to the taxpayers to find out where the TIF funds went.
“At this point we need the court’s assistance to get answers,” he said.
Elwood officials say CenterPoint’s project was supposed to include the industrial park as well as a truck stop, power plant, water and sewer treatment plant, hotels, restaurants and retail and 12,000 jobs.
So far, the company has built warehouses that brought 3,800 jobs, an intermodal facility and three times the truck traffic it predicted, the village lawsuit states.