Developer critical of eminent domain: Ft Wayne IN Journal Gazette, 1/28/07

Sided with homeowners in famous case

By Ron Shawgo

Land for a hotel to be built near a proposed downtown stadium was acquired by the city of Fort Wayne through the power of eminent domain, a process that one of the stadium developers has argued against.

Jason Freier, an Atlanta attorney and CEO of Hardball Capital, said the city action happened long before his company bought the Wizards and entered stadium discussions. There also are significant differences between the Fort Wayne eminent domain case and the one he challenged, he said.

The hotel would go on the corner of Harrison Street and Jefferson Boulevard on land the city bought from Belmont Beverage for $1.45 million. Belmont lost a court battle to keep the property.

City officials say the project, called Harrison Square, hinges on finding a company wanting to build the hotel. Hardball Capital is not involved in the hotel development, but Freier said a hotel developer known to Hardball partners might submit a proposal.

A landmark 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed eminent domain to be used to acquire homes for a private office complex and condominiums in New London, Conn.

In a brief filed in the case Freier, representing the NAACP, AARP and other groups, argued that eminent domain has historically targeted minorities and that taking land from one private citizen and giving it to another for economic development did not represent a true public use.

Freier said that in Fort Wayne the hotel would provide rooms for Grand Wayne Center, a public building for which the hotel would serve a public use. A stadium also would qualify as a true public use, he said.

Freier said there’s also a difference between taking homes, such as those in New London, and taking a business.

“I fully understand being emotionally tied to your business, but it is a different story than displacing somebody from their home, I think,” he said. “Not that any taking of a business would be unproblematic for me and any taking of a home would be problematic. It’s not that clear a line. But that is certainly one enormous factor and I think not just for me philosophically but I think for virtually everybody philosophically.”

Ft Wayne IN Journal Gazette: http://www.fortwayne.com/mld/journalgazette