When Kruzan administration officials discussed public input for the Finelight Strategic Marketing Communications plan to replace Ladyman's Cafe and other Kirkwood-and-Washington businesses with an office building, their inclination was for less, not more.
In an Aug. 23 e-mail to a vacationing Mayor Mark Kruzan, Plan Director Tom Micuda laid out the options.
The Finelight plan, which called for its own five-story headquarters to replace Ladyman's, would get public scrutiny at the Redevelopment Commission and City Council levels, due to its parking garage "partnership aspect," Micuda wrote.
"As for the Plan Commission, there is no requirement that I take their site plan to the Commission," he continued. "The code gives me some discretionary leverage to take a site plan to the Commission, but I've only used this discretion on downtown projects once before: with Smallwood. I'd prefer not to use this discretion unless absolutely necessary."
According to an intern's notes from a meeting Micuda held two days earlier with John Fernandez and Travis Vencel from Heartland Development Group, which purchased the property and would construct the Finelight office building, the pressure was on. Fernandez was also a Finelight vice president.
"JF needs answers fast in order to move to architects," the intern wrote. Fernandez needed to close on the property by the end of 2006 to get tax credits on it and wanted to go the Plan Commission in November, the notes say.
According to documents obtained from the city by The Bloomington Alternative through a public records request, Kruzan did not respond by e-mail to Micuda's recommendation.
As the public learned about the political process behind the Finelight proposal, the deal came unraveled. It has yet to reach the public input stage at any level.
On Dec. 16, before Fernandez left Finelight and Heartland on Jan. 1, the Herald-Times reported that Finelight owner Sherman Rogers no longer planned on locating his company headquarters there and was scaling the project down to a four-story building.
Of the five Ladyman's building occupants, Roadworthy Guitar & Amp moved to more expensive quarters around the corner on Walnut between Kirkwood and Fourth in October, while Greek's Pizzaria and the Shalom Center kitchen for the homeless are still there.
Monroe County Democratic Party signs still hang in its headquarter windows on the Washington Street side of the building. Former Democratic City Councilman and developer Jim Regester sold the building to Fernandez, the former Democratic mayor.
But rather than destroying the character of Ladyman's, which would have celebrated its 50th year in its Kirkwood location this year, owner Dana Reynolds chose to punt. Disgusted by the politics and people who destroyed her business, she closed the restaurant on Dec. 10.
On Jan. 18, she auctioned off her equipment, marking the official end of Ladyman's Cafe in Bloomington.
While Reynolds and Ladyman's had only been mentioned peripherally in notes from meetings and e-mails between Kruzan administration and Finelight/Heartland officials from March through July, they became a major focus in August.
Between Aug. 8 and 31, top-ranking city economic development officials met with, spoke to or e-mailed "Heartland tenants" 10 times. Six were with Reynolds or about Ladyman's.
On Sept. 15, Assistant Economic Development Director Danise Alano sent an e-mail to Kruzan and Economic Development Director Ron Walker, subject line "Discussions with Heartland tenants," that outlined the 10 meetings and conversations.
"There have been a few other touch-base phone calls with Dana than are listed here — but I wanted you to have the salient conversations at least before 3pm," Alano wrote.
On Aug. 8, Alano and Walker met with Reynolds. The first bulleted item in Alano's outline said, "Lots of community pressure; concern about her employees."
Reynolds's husband was not in favor of moving the restaurant, and Dana was "too busy with day-to-day restaurant activities to deal with this; They don't want to go into debt again regarding the restaurant," the e-mail said.
Three weeks before they learned in May that Ladyman's was going to be destroyed and replaced, the Reynolds had paid off a five-year bank loan they had taken out to buy the business from the Ladyman family. "They had a plan," Alano's e-mail said.
With respect to the history of Ladyman's, "don't want to see restaurant change."
Selling the Ladyman's name to Finelight was discussed. But if the Reynolds decided to continue, "What about Finelight storing Ladyman's equipment during construction, and allowing them to move back in?"
The proposed parking garage "would be a huge plus in that location," the e-mail said, noting parenthetically, "she recently got a ticket."
Alano was in charge of working with the Heartland tenants, and her bullet points for an Aug. 10 telephone conversation with Reynolds identified two possible locations for Ladyman's — the former McDaniel Furniture and the Cinemat video rental store.
The McDaniel site is on North Walnut, adjacent to the Video Saloon and Black's Mercantile. The Cinemat is owned by Democratic City Councilman Steve Volan, who rents the space at Fourth and Walnut, just around the corner from Kirkwood and Washington.
Reynolds "has a family friend associated with the owners" of the McDaniel site, the e-mail said, and "she has 'driven by'; ought to go take a look."
Architect Doug Bruce was helping Reynolds look at the Cinemat.
The mail said Reynolds would meet with "my assembled group to help inform her decision regarding a move." The group included bankers, restaurateurs and representatives of SCORE, the Service Core of Retired Executives, and the SBDC, the Small Business Development Council.
Alano's notes from the phone conversation concluded that "She's usually available to talk Thursdays and Fridays throughout the day, otherwise she is at the restaurant until 3:30ish."
On the 10th, Alano also telephoned other Heartland Tenants — Joel Rekas from the Shalom Center and David Baas from Roadworthy Guitar & Amp, as well as architect Bruce.
Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.