Behind the Scenes
City officials and executives at Finelight Strategic Marketing Communications hoped to have wrecking balls blocking traffic at Kirkwood and Washington this month. The plan was to demolish the building that has housed Ladyman's Cafe, Roadworthy Guitar & Amp, Greek's Pizzaria and a Shalom House kitchen for the homeless and replace it with a five-story office building to house Finelight's national headquarters.
Finelight wanted millions in public subsidies and financial breaks for a parking garage and other perks, like its own covered walkway from the garage to the building. Handwritten notes from a July 20 meeting between Kruzan administration and Finelight officials addressed timing — "20 month timeframe" and "at min. 6 mos away from demo."
Along the way, however, public outrage at the deal delivered some blows to the plan. On Dec. 16, The Herald-Times reported new Finelight plans for a scaled-down building that would not house its headquarters. And for the past few weeks a sign on the building has listed a telephone number for information on short-term leases.
In the waning days of 2006, Finelight Vice President John Fernandez, who spearheaded the project, left both Finelight and Heartland Development Group, which owns the property and will develop it.
The July 20 meeting between city and Finelight officials was at least their fourth since late March. Attending were Kruzan's Assistant Economic Development Director Danise Alano and Economic Development Director Ron Walker, city attorney Vicki Renfro, Fernandez and Travis Vencel from Heartland.
Among the items Alano's meeting notes say were discussed was a "transparent process" with respect to neighbors and tenants like the Shalom House, People's and Old National banks, and the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
Alano's notes say Roadworthy, which had been told of the plans a year before, would be moving "Aug/October."
By Aug. 31, the notes say, "we have figured out what we want on site." On issues like parking, retail and the nearby Bloomington Transit bus station, they would have "parameters nailed down to best extent possible."
The proposed parking garage would be built on the city parking lot behind the Ladyman's building on the corner of Fourth and Washington. Among the angles discussed at the July 20 meeting under the subject of "financing" were "creative options?" and "maybe not go Redev route of financing."
Walker's brief notes from the meeting include a typewritten "4th & Washington Project — Proposed Timetable" for the Redevelopment Commission, which oversees downtown economic development funds, like Tax Increment Finance Districts, or TIFs.
The timetable called for the commission to appoint independent appraisers to evaluate the rental value of the lot on Aug. 7 and for the City Board of Public Works to convey the lot to the Redevelopment Commission 17 days later.
By Oct. 18, Walker's timetable says, the City Council would adopt a resolution ratifying and approving a ground lease for the garage, and the Redevelopment Commission would enter into a lease on Nov. 6.
With respect to the garage, Alano's notes say, "35% City subsidy of downtown parking = not sustainable" and "privatize." The BT center at Fourth and Washington would "require closing" by the end of 2006.
Finelight, her notes say, wants a "walkway over alley to buildings" and "prefers to move with finished garage."
Walker's brief notes from an Aug. 8 meeting with Ladyman's owner Dana Reynolds confirm the offer Reynolds says she made to Fernandez a few weeks earlier to keep her café at the location it had occupied for nearly a half century. Ladyman's, which closed Dec. 10, would have turned 50 this year.
Walker's notes say Ladyman's would shut down during construction, be reimbursed for half the cost of storing its equipment and then operate for two years under its existing lease.
The notes say it would cost $100,000 "to move and reopen" Ladyman's and that the rent would be "$2,100/mo w 2,600 sq. ft. w 116 seats."
While Kruzan was on vacation, City Plan Director Tom Micuda met with Fernandez and Vencel in Micuda's office on Aug. 21 for a "pre-application meeting." He e-mailed Kruzan two days later.
"Earlier this week, I met with John Fernandez and Travis Vencel on the Finelight project," Micuda wrote. "One of the issues I discussed with them was whether the proposed development required public hearing review or whether it could be processed with a simple building permit. Before I get back with them on process, I wanted to give you my recommendation and get your OK."
Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.