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Owner of former Colgate property in Clarksville seeks mediation in federal eminent domain case

The Town of Clarksville filed a complaint in court last month seeking to take the former Colgate property through eminent domain. Attorneys for the property owner said in court filings this week plans are still ongoing to redevelop the site, including bringing in an Aloft Hotel.
Aprile Rickert
The Town of Clarksville filed a complaint in court last month seeking to take the former Colgate property through eminent domain. Attorneys for the property owner said in court filings this week plans are still ongoing to redevelop the site, including bringing in an Aloft Hotel.

The owner of the former Colgate-Palmolive property in south Clarksville has asked for mediation in the now federal case involving the town’s attempts to take the property and its iconic clock by eminent domain. In court filings, the owner said they are still working to redevelop the property, including revitalizing space for an Aloft Hotel.

Attorneys for Clarks Landing Enterprise Investments LLC, which owns the roughly 46-acre former plant, said in court filings this week Clarksville’s attempt to take the property is “an abuse of the town’s eminent domain powers.”

They’ve asked the judge to dismiss the complaint and set the matter for mediation.

Formal attempts at taking the property go back to at least last June, when the town council voted unanimously to condemn the former plant. They released a joint statement saying they had witnessed the “depreciation and degradation” of the historic property — which once housed a state prison — for more than a decade.

“If we allowed for the site to continue to degrade for another 11 years it would likely require demolition,” according to the statement. “We want to preserve and enjoy our history, we do not want to see it relegated solely to pictures and stories.”

Town leaders had previously been working with the owner to redevelop the property and in 2019, approved a master plan for rehabilitation and development at the site that once housed the Colgate-Palmolive Company.

Plans included a hotel, multi-family residential units and commercial space. Court records filed by Clarks Landing show several parts of the plan were set to start in 2020, but town leaders say the owner has done little to develop the area.

In February, the town offered Clarks Landing $6 million for the property, saying they would move forward with eminent domain if they refused or ignored the offer by the 30-day deadline.

The owner didn’t accept that offer, and in March, Clarksville attorneys filed a complaint in state court arguing the property included structures that “because of their physical conditions constitute a public nuisance” and were “unfit for human habitation or use because the structures are dilapidated, unsanitary, unsafe or do not contain the facilities or equipment required by applicable building codes or housing codes [under Indiana law].”

The town also argued the site has buildings which pose a fire hazard, and that some utilities had been disconnected or destroyed.

They say they want to preserve the historical significance of the property, and that preservation of the Colgate clock “is a primary objective.”

They’re seeking eminent domain to eventually transfer the property to another private party for ownership or control.

The case has since been transferred to federal court. In a response filed this week, attorneys for Clarks Landing asked for mediation, an evidentiary hearing on Clarksville’s complaint to take the property, for the complaint to be dismissed and Clarks Landing to be awarded court costs.

They say the town failed to make a good faith effort, presenting the owner with a “take it or leave it” offer. The owner says they have invested more than $30 million in the property, including a $5 million roof.

They also argue the town didn’t offer any actual evidence of the property being blighted or otherwise unfit for use.

“Extensive discussions have been had with the town regarding the development of the property, and significant steps have been taken toward realizing the development plan,” the response reads. “At no time during this process did the town instead suggest that the property was blighted and would instead be the subject of a taking.”

They say the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent rise in the cost of materials has set the project back, but plans are still underway — for retail, residential, food, office space and a hotel.

Court documents include a recent letter from Marriott International Inc. approving an extension to start building an Aloft Hotel to October 1, 2024, with completion within two years.

Clarks Landing also says in documents that part of the property is already occupied by a corporate tenant, CyberDome America LLC, which they say has signed a five-year lease with an option to extend it.

CyberDome announced last September that it was considering a $7.6-million investment in Jeffersonville — specifically for the main campus of a cyber security technology training academy.

That was planned for 1804 and 1806 E. 10th St., a project that would create close to 400 jobs.

A news release announcing the plans included that the company was awaiting approval on up to $5 million in conditional tax credits from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.

Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore, who was quoted in a news release announcing the potential investment, told LPM News this week the city had been in talks with the company on the investment, but that it hasn’t come to fruition. He later learned the company now has operations at the former Colgate property in Clarksville.

Attorneys for the Colgate-Palmolive Company also filed a request this week including to dismiss the complaint and appoint a mediator, saying the town is violating a 2009 agreement that gives Colgate-Palmolive certain rights related to the clock.

Attorneys for the Town of Clarksville recently filed documents requesting the case be moved back to state court where it originated. It was transferred due to some of the parties being incorporated and operating in other states. Clarksville argues Clarks Landing hasn’t proven the need for this to be heard in federal court.

As of Thursday, online court records did not yet show court action on the requests.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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