Announced with optimism a little over a year ago, a Detroit-area consultant's $5,000-a-month contract to attract more stores to Fort Wayne's southeast side has expired with little to show for it, at least for now — and a City Council member is questioning whether the Michigan company earned its fee.
Russ Jehl, R-2nd, was a real estate broker with the Bradley Co. in May when he attended an international shopping center trade show in Las Vegas and noticed that Indigo Centers booth was conspicuous for its lack of identification, promotional materials and, often, Indigo employees working to promote Fort Wayne and other clients.
"There were 50,000 people there, and (Indigo's) was the only booth with no presentation," said Jehl, who was working to attract firms to local properties represented by Bradley. Indigo representatives were in the booth on and off, he said, but the client book in the booth had only one page pertaining to Fort Wayne, Jehl said, and it contained a photo of downtown, not the southeast side.
Jehl said Indigo representatives told him their strategy was to mingle and make contacts that way — not by remaining in a booth and hope would-be clients stopped by. "But I do as much on the southeast side as anybody, and they never even talked to me (about doing something there)," Jehl added.
Kirk Moriarty, director of business development for Greater Fort Wayne Inc., was also at the Las Vegas conference and said he spoke with an Indigo representative and others at the company's booth. "While there met with . . . Indigo to offer GFW Inc.’s assistance as an economic development resource in Fort Wayne. Councilman Jehl was also in attendance at the conference, and I asked him to join us for this meeting as we are all working toward a common goal of improving our community," Moriarty said.
As announced by Mayor Tom Henry in December 2015, Indigo was to create a list of potential retail opportunities, develop an inventory of key locations for possible development, meet regularly with city officials, brokers and local leaders and represent the city at two International Council of Shopping Centers conventions, including the one in Las Vegas. The initial seven-month contract with Indigo began on Nov. 1, 2015 and was extended through Oct. 31, and the company fulfilled its obligations under the contract, city spokesman John Perlich said.
"If there was a concern, why wasn’t it presented to us (by Jehl) right away?" he asked. "The Las Vegas conference was held several months ago."
Jehl said he expressed concerns shortly after the conference to Community Development Director Greg Leatherman and fellow council members, but was not more active because he wanted to give Indigo a chance to produce results and because the city had just extended the firm's contract.
Jehl dismissed the notion council's elimination of a city position affected the city's ability to improve commercial opportunities on the southeast side. "The intentions were noble, but if they wanted (Indigo) to pass off leads to a bureaucrat, that's backward," said Jehl. Instead of hiring out-of-town consultants, he suggested, the city could best promote southeast-side business development by working to remove some of the barriers to capital. When the Indigo contract was announced, city officials touted a recent survey indicating a demand for 120 new south-side shops and restaurants.
"If it was easy, I wouldn't be (in Fort Wayne) today," said Indigo President Jeffrey Higgins at the time, who was unavailable for comment on this story.