Monroe City Councilman Ray Armstrong says he will take the lead at the next City Council meeting in revisiting a $650,000 renovation project for Gardner-Denver Thomas.
Armstrong said the public backlash to the City Council’s decision to shutter the project at its last meeting prompted him to bring the GDT matter back before the City Council. At the last City Council meeting, Armstrong voted against a motion to seek bids for the GDT project, which entails expanding and renovating its office space in the company’s main building in the airport industrial park. City Council members Betty Blakes and Eddie Clark joined Armstrong in voting against the project. The measure the City Council members voted “no” on would have authorized the city to seek bids on renovating aging office space.
“The public reaction to my vote absolutely impacted my decision to bring this back,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong says he will vote in favor of the GDT project at the next City Council meeting though he plans to propose a source of funding other than from the Interstate 20 Economic Development District. The I-20 district’s governing board pledged $400,000 toward the GDT project while the company had agreed to supply the remaining $250,000 to complete it. The company would have repaid the $400,000 from the I-20 district over the next 20 years through the $70,000 in annual rental payments it makes to the city’s airport lease fund. The city’s contract with GDT will expire in 2036. The company employs almost 300.
“I would like to see it come from three other potential sources and leave the I-20 district money in their account,” Armstrong said.
Under the terms of the original project agreement, the city is not obligated to pay any part of the renovations to the GDT building, which the city owns. At the City Council’s last meeting, Armstrong recommended paying the $400,000 project costs out of the city’s general fund.
“This is so important to the community that no matter where the money comes from, even if I disagree with the source, I will vote this forward,” Armstrong said. “I will concede this in the best interest of the community and keeping Gardner-Denver Thomas.”
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo has said the renovation project was promised to GDT as part of a Blue Ribbon incentive package to convince the company to expand its service in Monroe instead of in Cheboygan, Wis.
“There is a huge amount of damage done to the city that will take a lot of healing after their decision,” Mayo said. “Their vote sent a message to not only Gardner-Denver, but any economic development prospects. If it passes next time, we can try to pick up the pieces in spite of the tremendous damage done. It cannot be totally repaired just by bringing it back.”
Stephen Moret, secretary of the state Department of Louisiana Economic Development (LED), said GDT had become one of the “largest economic-driver companies in northeast Louisiana.” Moret said LED would “closely monitor the current situation” as the City Council prepared to reconsider the renovation project.
Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Sue Nicholson said last week she hoped the City Council would follow through on “its promise to revisit and approve the expansion at the next meeting.”
The City Council will consider the matter at its March 11 meeting.
Armstrong said he voted against the GDT project at the City Council’s last meeting because Mayo’s administration did not adequately answer his questions about the project’s details.
“There should have been more communication about former agreements between the council and the mayor,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t know this expansion was promised to them. Communication would have solved that problem.”
When asked if he tried to contact Mayo or anyone else in his administration about the GDT issue prior to the City Council’s last meeting, Armstrong said he hadn’t.
“I did not call the mayor specifically about that item,” Armstrong said. “I did not foresee the meeting going the way it did. I went into that meeting planning to approve the expansion. But during the meeting when I requested information, they did not have any answers.”
At the City Council’s last meeting, Armstrong questioned the amount of rent paid by the company to the city. He also inquired about whether the company should receive funding from the I-20 board since the company’s building was located outside of the I-20 district. When the City Council first introduced the GDT renovation project in August 2013, the City Council received answers then about the rental fee, according to the minutes of that meeting. The City Council also received an explanation about an Attorney General’s opinion that said the company could receive I-20 district funds since it would impact the I-20 district, though it was located outside of the I-20 district’s boundaries.
“Moving forward, the City Council is already starting to say that the money from the I-20 district is illegal,” Mayo said. “But we have an Attorney General’s opinion that gave us an exception by saying Gardner-Denver positively impacts the I-20 district.”