It was a Columbus City parking lot that generated nearly $134,000 in parking revenues and fines last year. The property was recently listed on the the Franklin County Auditor's website with an appraisal value of $299,000. Now, a private developer owns the land.
It agreed to pay $1.
10 Investigates has learned the city sold the property for $1. City officials acknowledge it offered the deal only to the Pizzuti Company.
City council approved the transaction and claims it will help stimulate economic development. A spokesman for Council President, Andrew Ginther, projects the sale will generate $4.1 million for the city over the next 10 years.
A review of city records going back to 2009 found no other land transactions to private developers for $1.
A critic of the plan said the deal seemed suspicious.
Sam Gresham, chairman of the government watchdog group Common Cause Ohio, questioned the city's decision to make the deal without inviting other offers.
"That's a sweet deal," Gresham said.
Gresham once worked as a city planner for the city of Columbus. He says it is odd that the city would sell a parcel of land for so little in an area that is already thriving economically.
"This is a mature strip. If it was an immature strip and it was in the development state, I could understand that," Gresham said. "But this is a mature strip."
The parking lot will be used by Pizzuti for parking, in part to support Pizzuit's boutique hotel that is now under construction and its art gallery, said Ginther Chief of Staff, Kenneth Paul in a written statement.
Paul's statement said the city would recover nearly $5 million combined revenue from new taxes and payments over a 10 year period.
Paul did not indicate whether he believed another developer would have been capable of an equal or greater return.
Ginther declined repeated invitations to address questions during an on camera interview. The Pizzuti Company did not return calls for comment.
10 Investigates found a financial connection between Puzzuti, its executives and President Ginther.
Ginther's campaign disclosure show that Pizzuti executives and a Pizzuti PAC contributed to Ginther's campaign several times in recent years. Since 2011, the Pizzutis have given more than $10,000.
10 Investigates found no campaign disclosures that showed Pizzuti executives gave to other Columbus city council members during that same period.
Paul sent a statement that said the contributions were "absolutely not" an influence in his decision to support the deal.
Gresham said Ginther should answer questions on camera.
"That's a troubling issue," Gresham said. "Someone should answer some questions."
John Ivanic, Communications Director for the Columbus City Council, stated people in the community support the deal.
Ivanic offered to locate those people for an interview, but he declined to make council members available for comment.