Questions the News4 I-Team raised about spending at the Fairgrounds are getting results.
We told you last week it appears that some of the money meant to fix up buildings already on the property instead went towards planning a new Major League Soccer stadium.
On Wednesday, the contractor in charge of the project, Larry Atema, told the Fair Board the funds will be “reclassified.”
The I-Team’s Nancy Amons asked if that means the Fairgrounds gets its money back
“Correct,” Atema said.
Atema’s company, Commonwealth Development, has a consulting contract with Metro. He charges $195 per hour for his management fee to oversee the Fairgrounds projects.
Invoices uncovered by the I-Team show taxpayers have paid Commonwealth $511,000 in management fees in the last year and a half.
One project Commonwealth has been overseeing is the creation of new public soccer fields at the Fairgrounds.
The money taxpayers paid Commonwealth for management fees does not include any actual building.
"Are we just saying 'here's a blank check,' because apparently, that's what we're doing!" said Councilman Steve Glover when the I-Team showed him Commonwealth’s invoices.
Glover is calling for an investigation into what the I-Team found, not only into Atema's invoices but our discovery that Atema has been using some of $12 million earmarked for Fairgrounds improvements for work on the MLS stadium.
Metro Council set aside the money for Fairgrounds upgrade, like painting and repairing air-conditioning units, but our investigation found Atema hired architects and engineers for design work on the MLS stadium, which hasn't been approved by the council yet.
"Hundreds of thousands of dollars are going for something we haven't approved yet!" Glover exclaimed.
Wednesday morning, Atema was in the hot seat before the Fair Board because of what the I-Team found.
Atema implied that the money for the preliminary stadium work will now be moved to a different budget.
"All of that, and some design time, by the designers and the engineers that we've been tracking will ultimately be reclassified out, " Atema told the board.
The I-Team asked how the bills would be paid.
“That’s up to the finance department,” Atema said.
Amons asked Atema who authorized him to begin planning work for the new soccer stadium.
"Who told me?" Atema replied. "I was asked by the chief operating officer to start looking into it, and how it might happen, and how we might integrate it into the life of this project -- more than a year ago."
He was referring to Metro's Chief Operating Officer, Rich Riebeling. The two have been friends for decades.
"We do talk and visit," Atema said. "And these complicated projects require trust."
For some on Metro Council, trust is in short supply right now.
"It's a shell game," Glover said. "This just tells me this was a grand plan."
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