Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle said his firm will pull out of a pending deal with the state and city to expand its headquarters on Indianapolis' Near Eastside because of his disagreement with the state's passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Oesterle said he opposed the passage of the act on Thursday, intends to keep speaking out against it, and feels he can't accept state subsidies for his company's expansion given his disagreement over the act.
"We're going to be very vocal on this issue and I don't feel we can do that if we are taking state money," Oesterle said Saturday in an interview with The Star. "We don't want to be bound by commitments in that deal given the current atmosphere in the state (government)."
The state promised tax credits for the planned expansion of Angie's headquarters campus on East Washington Street. Financing for a new parking garage for Angie's employees also involves state help. Final approval of the deal is pending before Indianapolis City-County Council.
Oesterle said Angie's List, a publicly traded firm that he co-founded, will re-evaluate its plan to expand.
"The expansion could happen in Indiana, it's just not going to happen with state aid. There are a number of approaches (the expansion could take). We will be building a new master plan to meet the needs of the business."
Oesterle said he opposes the passage of the RFRA, similar or identical versions of which have been passed in 19 other states, because he feels it makes it difficult to retain and recruit employees who feel the act opens the door to discrimination against gays and other minorities.
"It's very difficult ... to point to this as a harmless piece of legislation. It has caused national embarrassment (for Indiana). It has been so badly handled."
Oesterle said one of Angie's top executives and his partner, who are gay, are questioning their decision to move to Indiana to work for Angie's List.
"The demographic of our company is younger and to the extent...people become fed up with this (the passage of RFRA) and look for other opportunities and places that don't have this tone, that is an issue for us. The connection is not being made at the Statehouse that these acts hinder our ability" to do business, he said.
In a news release Saturday, Oesterle said the company is "putting the 'Ford Building Project' on hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future,"
"Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents," Oesterle said.
He also said the company will immediately begin reviewing alternatives for its expansion. It had been expected to break ground on the project within days, the release said.
In a statement Saturday on the Angie's List announcement, Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett said RFRA "was already hurting Indy's neighborhoods."
"I'm disappointed to hear of the potential loss of the Angie's List expansion," Hogsett said. "It meant more than just jobs to Near Eastside neighborhoods. When key corporate and community partners like Angie's List speak, we should listen."
Angie's List had announced in October that it was planning the $40 million expansion of its headquarters on the Eastside, a move that could add 1,000 jobs over five years.
The company said it would do so by purchasing a 101-year-old Ford assembly plant from Indianapolis Public Schools and turn it into offices and construct a 1,000-space garage nearby at East Washington Street and Southeastern Avenue.
Under the proposal, the city would take out an $18.5 million TIF bond to finance its contributions.About $9.6 million of it would go into street improvements and a parking garage, the latter of which would be owned and maintained by Angie's List. The city also would chip in $6.75 million to help relocate an Indianapolis Public Schools warehouse from the old Ford building.
However, the reaction to the proposed expansion has cooled since the initial announcement, and it had been meeting some resistance from residents and members of the City-County Council..
On March 2, the City-County Council — on the verge of deciding whether to approve the $18.5 million package of tax incentives — instead sent the proposal back to committee for more vetting, after residents and others raised concerns about the company's profit woes. The proposal passed that committee in mid-March and was scheduled for a vote by the full council on Monday.