Had Dana Reynolds known what Mark Kruzan knew last March, Ladyman's Cafe might have had a chance to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year as the institution that, for generations of Hoosiers, is a historic, cherished part of the Bloomington experience.
Notes taken by Ron Walker, Kruzan's director for economic development, at a March 29 meeting with representatives from Finelight Strategic Marketing Communications say: "Finelight has total control of Wash/Kirkwood," the location from which Ladyman's has served up eggs and hash browns to a diverse, colorful customer base of locals, students and alumni since 1957.
Walker's hand-written notes do not say who attended that meeting. But, referring to Finelight owner Sherman Rogers, they conclude: "Sherman is interested in sitting with Mayor and giving his update. Do this after 4/12. Mon and Fri are best in the afternoons."
Kruzan's mayoral predecessor, Democrat John Fernandez, is a Finelight vice president. He is also president of Heartland Development Group, a separate company that plans to demolish Ladyman's and replace it with a five-story, brick-and-glass office building.
Among the documents acquired by The Bloomington Alternative through a Public Records Request is the agenda for a June 2 meeting at Finelight headquarters attended by Kruzan, Walker, Rogers, Fernandez and Kevin Todd, Finelight chief financial officer.
Agenda item number three read: "Present Finelight's Request for Assistance."
Neither Kruzan nor Walker took notes at that meeting, according to Assistant City Attorney Susan Failey. But a document presented to Walker at the March 29 meeting said that assistance includes, among other things, a "10-year tax abatement for real & personal property investment."
In underlined text, Finelight says: "The project we envision can only happen if the City of Bloomington joins with Finelight in making new investments that can enhance downtown Bloomington."
Dana Reynolds did not know that the business she purchased just five years before from Ted Ladyman was doomed until late May, right after she reopened after a kitchen fire closed the cafe for three weeks.
"I found out this was going to happen through another tenant, actually," Reynolds told the Alternative. "We had that little fire that shut Ladyman's down for three weeks, and during that time I had kind of heard that, 'Hey, Dana, things are going to start happening up here.''
Within a week, she said, "I received a letter from Jim Regester and Heartland Group ... that we were to start paying our lease to them."
Regester is former Democratic City Councilman Jim Regester, who sold the Ladyman's building to former Democratic Mayor Fernandez.
Fernandez is seeking taxpayer-funded subsidies from Democratic Mayor Kruzan and a City Council dominated by a 7-2 Democratic majority.
Among the options is to move Ladyman's into business space now rented by the Cinemat, which is owned by Democratic Councilman Steve Volan.
While he didn't tell Reynolds until the deal was done, Regester had told at least one other tenant that the building was for sale.
A week before Kruzan personally heard Finelight's June 2 request for public assistance, Reynolds decided she had been in the dark long enough. She went to Fernandez personally to ask what was going to happen. He told her she needed to be looking for another place to do business.
At the March 29 meeting with Walker, Finelight presented a document titled "Finelight Project Summary."
In addition to the request for city assistance, the summary had subsections titled "Finelight Story," "Growing Pains," "Finelight & Bloomington: Investing together for an even more dynamic Downtown" and "Summary of Finelight Economic Impact(s)."
According to the "Finelight Story" section, the company started in 1984 as a photography studio that evolved into an ad agency serving clients in the health care industry.
"Today, Finelight is well-established as a leading authority in health care marketing," the project summary says. The ad agency built a team, it says, "that understood the business of health care, as well as the business of marketing."
It says Finelight has expanded business operations to Chicago, Louisville, Jacksonville and New York. And extrapolating from a photograph on the Bombardier Business Aircraft Web site, the health care marketing business, at a time when a record 46.6 million Americans have no health insurance, must be booming.
The November 2005 photo shows Rogers with company executives under the headline "Bombardier Launches New Challenger 605 Intercontinental Business Jet."
The new, $27 million aircraft "features new state-of-the art avionics, a redesigned interior with larger windows and an increased payload capacity, providing operators with more options and flexibility," the Orlando-based company's site says.
Rogers and Finelight are identified as Bombardier's "North American launch customer."
Despite having the financial wherewithal to buy a $27 million jet last winter, Finelight told Kruzan this spring that the company needs taxpayers to invest in its displacement of Ladyman's, Roadworthy, Greek's Pizzeria and a Shalom House annex that serves meals to the homeless.
The Finelight "Comparative Development Cost" document projects the downtown office building's costs will be $8.89 million, a third of its new plane's price tag.
In addition to not paying its share of taxes on the new office building for a decade, Finelight said it needs a new parking garage with 150 spaces, "support/advocacy for necessary demolition work," "financial assistance for tenant relocations" and "fee waivers for city utilities and county building permits."
Finelight projects the cost of the parking garage at $4.25 million — land costs of $200,000 and construction costs of $4.05 million, 150 spaces at $15,000 per space.
Walker's notes changed the 150 spaces to 175 and indicate the building will have an "entrance on corner — retail on Kirkwood."
In an April 28 e-mail to Walker, copied to Kruzan's Deputy Mayor James McNamara, who served Fernandez in the same capacity, Finelight identified the city's parking lot at Fourth and Washington, behind its planned office building, as the preferred site for a parking garage.
Walker's notes also list project pros and cons, with the cons outweighing the pros, under which he has but one entry: "I.U." Cons are "height, retail, parking, Ladyman's and Shalom."
In the April 28 e-mail, still a month before Reynolds learned of Ladyman's fate, Fernandez wrote:
"We've formally launched our internal space planning (although that's not public within Finelight). I'd like to schedule a kick-off planning meeting in the near future. It's my hope that I can get your office, planning, legal and/or anyone else you think should be there, together with our A&E team.
"The goal is enable a very collaborate planning process. We're really starting with a blank page and welcome the City's involvement in the planning/designing of the project.
"Obviously, we think that having a multi-use parking structure on the City's current surface lot to the south would be of mutual benefit to the downtown community and Finelight. If we can help make that happen via a design, build, lead project, we want to pursue it.
"We'll be in touch. Thanks."
Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.