News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 16, 2013

Part of downtown ISU housing plan on hold

Extension for land purchase tabled by Board of Public Works

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — City officials tabled a request Tuesday to grant yet another extension for a piece of a multi-million dollar project to provide downtown housing for Indiana State University students.

The board also tabled an oil lease between Pioneer Oil and the city, awaiting further developments on the student housing project.

Meeting in City Hall, the five-person Terre Haute Board of Public Works and Safety tabled a request for an extension of a purchase agreement between the city and Thompson Thrift for property at 500 Wabash Ave., currently a city-owned parking lot that was formerly a bus transfer station.

The board needed three members to vote for the extension, but only three members were present and one of those, Roland Shelton, announced he would abstain from a vote because of his employment with the ISU Foundation, which raises money for the university.

Without Shelton’s vote, there were not enough votes to extend the purchase agreement. Shelton did join fellow members Bob Murray and Jim Trimble in tabling the extension until the Board of Works, whose members are appointed by the mayor, meets again Oct. 28.

Members Jon Stenson and Cary Sparks were absent from the meeting.

The extension would be the third for the proposed land purchase. Under current terms, the purchase agreement expires Nov. 1. The agreement tabled Tuesday would extend the purchase agreement’s life until Dec. 31.

Cliff Lambert, executive director of the Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment, who has been a guiding force for the ISU/Thompson Thrift project, suggested Shelton could vote on the extension because of the foundation being separate from the university. However, Shelton said he typically abstains from university-related votes and Chou-il Lee, city attorney and board attorney, said that past practice indicated Shelton should abstain. Lee advised Shelton he could take part in the vote to table the request.

In January, Thompson Thrift submitted the lone bid to purchase the 33-space parking lot on the northeast corner of Fifth Street and Wabash Avenue. But the sale, for $118,000, was contingent on Thompson Thrift also purchasing adjoining property to the east, up to Sixth Street. The developer plans to build a multi-story student housing building with commercial space on the ground floor in that location.

However, state lawmakers on the Indiana Budget Committee in Indianapolis have so far refused to approve the project, which originally called for ISU to lease the student housing portion of the building from Thompson Thrift for $1.05 million annually for three decades. In August, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, chairman of the budget committee, said he did not believe the agreement was a good one for ISU, and the committee called for more work on the project.

At Tuesday’s Board of Works meeting, Lambert said the budget committee appears poised to approve the project when it next meets in December. Talks involving Indiana State University, Thompson Thrift and the budget committee have made “very significant, good progress” toward addressing the concerns of the committee, especially those of Kenley, Lambert told the board.

Kenley could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment.

Diann McKee, ISU vice president for business affairs, reached after the meeting, said university and state officials have met and are continuing to meet about the project, but that no dates have been set for approval.

“There are no commitments at this point. We are hopeful that we will be able to start the project, but we have no dates certain at this point,” McKee said. “It’s a work-in-progress at this point.”

Also Tuesday, the board voted to table a proposed oil lease agreement between Pioneer Oil and the City of Terre Haute for the property at 500 Wabash Ave. The lease would grant to Terre Haute royalties from any oil produced and sold from the Pioneer drilling operation planned for the downtown, including mostly on the ISU campus.

The lease would pay the city royalties based on its ownership of 500 Wabash; however, because that ownership could soon change to Thompson Thrift, the board agreed, at Lambert’s request, to table the matter.

Lambert asked for the issue to be dropped until December; however, Rick Shagley, an attorney representing Pioneer, suggested that the matter be tabled until the next board meeting on Oct. 28, which was what the board voted to do.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or