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Despite objections, restaurant operators vow Monday opening

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Backers of a Detour American Grille vow to open in The Commons five days from now, despite the city’s plans to declare the Scotty’s Burger Joint lease broken.

“We are very committed to Columbus, and we are very committed to our workforce, and we are so committed that we are planning to open our Detour next Monday,” said Mark Maddox, co-owner of MSCB Group LLC, which owns the company leasing the space in The Commons.

Mayor Kristen Brown and City Attorney Kelly Benjamin told the Columbus City Council on Monday night that under the current lease, the only restaurant permitted to operate there is Scotty’s Burger Joint. By closing the Scotty’s restaurant Dec. 31, Benjamin said the leaseholder breached terms of the agreement, requiring the city to seek new bids for the restaurant location.

The city plans to present a letter to Greenhouse Restaurants Inc., a subsidiary of MSCB Group, at Thursday night’s Redevelopment Commission meeting, notifying the company the lease has been breached and giving the company 15 days to repair the breach — that is, to reopen as a Scotty’s.

However, Maddox said Tuesday that his company’s attorneys have reached a different conclusion.

Under their interpretation, if the restaurant does not reopen in The Commons by Monday, they believe they then would be violating the lease.

“We feel that if we get back open, we will be in compliance with our lease,” Maddox said.

The company owners hope to come to an agreement with the city before they reopen, but the plan is to proceed with the reopening no matter what happens Thursday night and in the face of any legal action from the city.

“It is our goal to be really good corporate citizens in Columbus,” Maddox said. “That is what we are trying to be focused on. But if the city wants to consider it, then the mayor needs to decide whether she wants to use taxpayer money to go to court in an attempt to close a local business and give pink slips to our 70 employees.”

Mert Shipman, also a co-owner of MSCB Group, said Tuesday that he agreed with Maddox’s assessment.

“We still hope to stay there,” Shipman said. “We have got 70 employees; that is our first concern. We have just been kind of dealt a bad hand. We are trying to salvage it.”

Shipman said the restaurant struggled when Fourth Street was under reconstruction this fall, but he grew optimistic when the road work was complete in early December. MSCB Group also recently worked out its disagreements with the city over unpaid utility bills, construction costs, back rent and transferring the lease to the control of the Redevelopment Commission.

Then the relationship with a management firm, A Pots & Pans Production, which operates Scotty’s restaurants, collapsed abruptly last month, and the company had to scramble to find another restaurant management company.

“We think it is worked out,” Shipman said. “It just seems like it makes most sense to let us get back open and let us get the employees to continue to have a job.”

Shipman said the company has been training employees for the new restaurant concept and making mostly cosmetic changes that will allow the opening of Detour American Grille.

Brown said Tuesday night that the city has not been notified of the company’s intentions to reopen. She said Benjamin would begin researching what the city’s options are, should that happen.

Brown took exception to claims that the city is instigating the dispute.

“We are not closing down a business,” Brown said. “They are breaching a legal contract. We are not responsible for termination with their relationship with Scotty’s. The city has no involvement in that.”

Brown said the city has been clear with the company that they don’t have a lease to operate anything but a Scotty’s franchise in The Commons.

She said the city plans to push forward with plans to assign to The Commons Board responsibility for developing a request for proposals for the space and to have the Redevelopment Commission vote Thursday on whether to declare MSCB Group/Greenhouse in violation of its lease with the city.

The Commons Board meets at 11:30 a.m. today at the Xenia Miller Room in The Commons. The Redevelopment Commission meets at 6 p.m. Thursday in Council Chambers on the top floor of City Hall.

Brown said the final approval of a new lease would come from City Council, according to state statute.

“We are going to go through a lawful process,” Brown said. “They are more than welcome to put in a proposal to open up a Detour American, along with any other people who might qualify and be interested in the space.”

Council member Frank Jerome, who also serves on the Redevelopment Commission, had said after Monday’s City Council meeting that he thinks it is a good idea to seek new bidders for the space. He said it would give the city the opportunity to clean up what he views as mistakes in the existing lease, such as the lease period — five years with up to four renewals.

“I don’t think this is a good deal for Columbus, the way it is,” Jerome said. “I would just as soon start over. If we did sign a new lease, if it is even possible, we would change some of the things like the renewals. We wouldn’t leave those in there.”

The contract with MSCB Group/Greenhouse originally was negotiated by Columbus Downtown Inc., a nonprofit corporation set up under Mayor Fred Armstrong’s administration to develop downtown and to administer leases in the city-owned garages and The Commons. Brown has been working to wind down CDI and remove it from city dealings.

Brown has said it was not clear who even owned the various components in the space, because the city paid MSCB Group for the buildout.

Susan Fye, president of Columbus Downtown Inc., who has the responsibility of wrapping up the corporation’s business, said she had reviewed the various contracts with the buildout of the space for Scotty’s Burger Joint.

She said sh believes the city owns all of the permanent fixtures in the former Scotty’s space, and the company owns the nonpermanent fixtures such as televisions, furniture and kitchen equipment.

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