The fate of a prime downtown Columbus restaurant location and its 70 employees remained undecided Wednesday after the Columbus Redevelopment Commission chose to put off a decision until members are satisfied with answers to questions they have about plans for the site.
During a special meeting, the Redevelopment Commission heard a proposal from MSCB Group, the parent company of the lease-holder of the space in The Commons, to replace the now-closed Scotty’s Burger Joint with a Detour American Grille.
Commissioners decided they needed more information before they could reach a decision, however. While commission members said they were sympathetic to the company’s desire to reopen as quickly as possible, the city will seek an opinion from the State Board of Accounts on how best to proceed, taking no action Wednesday on a request to amend the lease for the space.
Although the former Scotty’s was sporting signs that morning with a reopening date the week of Jan. 7, the earliest the Redevelopment Commission could reconvene is 6 p.m. Jan. 10.
April 2011: Columbus Downtown Inc. selected Scott Wise, the owner of the chain of Scotty’s restaurants, as one of the first announced tenants of the new Commons.
November 2011: Scotty’s Burger Joint opened.
November 2012: Lease-holder Mert Shipman said the city owed him $25,521 for extra construction costs for the space in The Commons. The city said Shipman owed $28,762.44 for unpaid electric, water and sewer bills and had yet to reassign his lease from CDI to the Redevelopment Commission. The city gave Shipman 15 days to comply or face eviction.
Dec. 19, 2012: Shipman severs the management agreement with A Pots & Pans Production to operate the Columbus Scotty’s restaurant.
Monday: Scotty’s Burger Joint closes.
Wednesday: New plans are presented to the Columbus Redevelopment Commission for the former Scotty’s Burger Joint. The lease-holder wishes to reopen the restaurant space with a Detour American Grille franchise. Commission takes no action because of unanswered questions.
6 p.m. Jan. 10: Next Columbus Redevelopment Commission meeting in the City Council chambers at City Hall, 123 Washington St.
Mark Maddox, one of the partners in MSCB Group, said the change came upon them quickly because of financial problems they were having with the previous restaurant management company, A Pots & Pans Production, the owners of the Scotty’s brand. Although MSCB terminated the contract with the Scotty’s owners over those issues in December, Maddox expected a three-month period to make the changes. Instead, Maddox said his company found out through news reports that A Pots & Pans Production was planning to close the Scotty’s Burger Joint at the end of December.
Maddox said his company then began scrambling to find another restaurant management team and concept, so that employees would not have their work schedules or paychecks disrupted. Maddox said despite Wednesday’s setback, the company would continue to train its employees to prepare for a Detour American Grille opening the day after the commission gives its approval for the lease change. However, if the decision is not reached next week, Maddox said the company would likely lay off the staff.
“The most important issue here that the commission will focus on is the roughly 70 employees of the restaurant,” Maddox said. “If in fact they choose not to amend the lease as we have requested, then they are going to be creating unemployment for the vast majority of the team.”
Matt Whisler, president of Detour Franchising, said the company plans to use its Columbus location as a prototype restaurant to entice potential franchisees and to train staff for restaurants they hope to open across the country.
The company has Detour American Grille restaurant locations in downtown Carmel and on the north side of Indianapolis, with plans to open in Fishers this month as well as in Columbus.
The changes to the interior of The Commons space are cosmetic and mainly consist of new logos on the walls and a splash of red paint here and there, Whisler said.
Commissioners, however, said they had questions about whether they were obligated to reopen the bidding process for the space and would seek answers from the State Board of Accounts.
City Attorney Kelly Benjamin said the lease is considered broken if the restaurant stops operating, but the company has 15 days to reopen.
City Council member Frank Miller, who attended as an audience member, urged the commission members not to make any hasty decisions. He said he sat through some of the meetings of Columbus Downtown Inc. under the previous administration where he felt decisions were made too quickly.
“It is unfortunate what has happened here,” Miller said. “I feel bad for the 70 employees, but I would behoove this commission not to make a quick decision. I think we need to look at this. My personal preference would be that we open it all up (to bidders) all over again and start from scratch.”
Miller also urged the redevelopment commission to make amendments to limit the length of the lease, making it shorter than the 25 years it now covers.
Commission members were first concerned about whom, exactly, they were dealing with. City Council and commission member Frank Jerome asked several times for company officials to clear up the ownership picture.
Maddox said that his company, MSCB Group, owns Greenhouse Restaurants Inc., which in turn is the lease-holder of the space in The Commons. Last year, Greenhouse Restaurants hired A Pots & Pans Production, the parent company of the Scotty’s chain of restaurants, to operate a Scotty’s Burger Joint in The Commons. However, that arrangement was terminated last month.
Although the lease specifically calls for a Scotty’s restaurant at the location, Greenhouse Restaurants asked the city at Wednesday’s meeting to amend the lease to replace the Scotty’s references with Detour references. If approved, the Detour restaurant would be managed by Detour Franchising, owned by Greenhouse Restaurants, which is owned by MSCB Group.
Mert Shipman, another principal of MSCB Group who previously represented the company in negotiations with the city, was not present at the meeting because he was on a family vacation, said Kerry Mann, attorney for MSCB Group.