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Local News

Joliet wants answers from Innovation Pavilion as company faces lawsuit

Joliet wants answers from Innovation Pavilion as company faces lawsuit

The Innovation Pavilion website tells of 200,000 square feet of office, retail and housing development the company plans with a “state-of-the-art innovation campus” in downtown Joliet.

But it’s been nearly a year since the city made an incentive agreement with the Colorado-based company, and the biggest news from Innovation Pavilion has been that the company and CEO are entangled in a civil lawsuit alleging sexual assault.

City officials want to know more about Innovation Pavilion’s plans in the aftermath of the lawsuit filed three weeks ago, alleging among other things that company founder and now former Chief Executive Officer Waqar “Vic” Ahmed treated the workplace “like his own personal playground” and forced women “to cede to his sexual desires as a condition of their professional advancement.”

City Manager David Hales announced at a public meeting last week that Joliet officials are trying to set up a meeting with the interim CEO who has taken over since Ahmed stepped down.

“We’re just still trying to get detailed information with these reports of Vic Ahmed and this company,” Hales said Monday. “What impact is that having on the longterm, sustained viability of the company?”

Interim CEO Kitty Kolding could not be reached Monday for comment on the effect of the lawsuit and other matters. Jennifer Bustamante, vice president of national expansion, also did not return a call for comment.

Hales said there’s a lot Joliet wants to talk about, including the lack of any apparent progress in the plan.

The city has a stake in the plan, having committed free land and up to $200,000 in cash incentives to Innovation Pavilion if the company applies for building permits to start construction.

“As of now, no public funds have been committed,” City Attorney Marty Shanahan said. “In order for Innovation Pavilion to secure public funds, they have to take a number of steps. They have not taken those steps.”

The incentive agreement with the city lays out an Innovation Pavilion “Work Plan Proposal,” which includes roundtable discussions, advisory boards and “panel discussions on trending entrepreneurial and innovation topics.”

Hales said Joliet officials want to review “the performance or lack thereof in the first year, including why they still have not had a local manager that they promised to staff this and to oversee the action plan in the first year,” Hayes said.

Innovation Pavilion brought in a local manager last year, Hales said, but he quit “after a short time period” and was not replaced.

Joliet also wants to know whether Innovation Pavilion has lined up a real estate developer for the project.

Ahmed in response to Herald-News questions earlier this year about the status of the project had said Innovation Pavilion would announce a developer in March.

There was no public announcement, although Hales said Innovation Pavilion has told city officials that they have a developer.

“They shared a name with us, but we don’t know if that’s been solidified,” Hales said. “And, are they ready to make that name public?”

Hales said he also is concerned about the level of engagement between Innovation Pavilion and “community stakeholders,” including local schools.

The Innovation Pavilion website refers to a future “partnership with Joliet Township High School’s STEM academy” and a “21st Century Library” that was to be linked to the Joliet Public Library branch downtown.

But Superintendent Cheryl McCarthy told The Herald-News in February that school officials no longer are talking to Innovation Pavilion about a partnership. Library Director Megan Millen said talks with the company stalled because of Innovation Pavilion’s interest in using public library space for a for-profit venture.

“I think there are more unanswered questions than anything,” said Hales, “especially given that one year has elapsed.”

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