Columbus has renewed its search for a tenant in the former Snappy Tomato Pizza location inside The Commons.
The only applicant, local businessman Philip Roggow, had planned to open a coffee shop adjacent to the 30-foot-tall Luckey Climber playground.
But Roggow’s proposal to open Dancing Goat Coffee was turned down over questions about his business plan.
Roggow applied to lease the 678-square-foot space May 19 after the city sent out a request for proposals March 11. But after an evaluation by the Columbus Redevelopment Commission tenant review committee, Roggow was notified last month that his application was denied.
Mayor Kristen Brown, who is also president of the redevelopment commission, and other commission members said they loved the concept of the coffee shop. But the tenant review committee, which included two commission members in addition to two city councilmen and two Commons Board members, had concerns about the details of the proposal.
Committee members questioned the business’s strength and its operational plan for the quick-service food space in the southwest corner of The Commons food court.
Because the city used a proposal process, it can choose to keep applicant information other than the names of those submitting proposals confidential. The application for the request for proposals outlines that committee discussions and submitted proposals are confidential.
That means the committee members are not allowed to disclose specific concerns with the business proposal or reveal any financial information related to the application.
Bob Abrams, a member of the redevelopment commission and the six-member committee, said the group and the city both want to fill the empty former Snappy Tomato space.
However, they also want to have a high level of confidence in the business they ultimately choose to join Subway, Jordy McTaggart’s Grill and Pub and Puccini’s Smiling Teeth in the “centerpiece of our downtown,” he said.
“As we all know, that’s a very important space,” Abrams said. “We just want to make sure going into (any agreement) that we have the highest probability of success.”
George Dutro, a member of the Commons Board and the committee that reviewed the application, agreed that both groups want any addition to The Commons to be a thriving business.
“It’s the community’s gathering space, and it needs to be a vibrant, alive space,” Dutro said. “We want something that adds activity, that can be successful in the space and that offers something different that what we already have.”
Following Snappy Tomato
The previous tenant was Snappy Tomato Pizza, which opened in 2011 and was evicted early this year.
The restaurant went an entire year without paying its $1,500-a-month rent, which city officials first realized in December. When the redevelopment commission evicted Snappy Tomato on Jan. 17, the restaurant owed the city $27,237.52. Snappy Tomato ultimately paid an $18,500 settlement that freed owner Tim Larken from contract obligations.
The city accepted the loss of nearly $9,000 so it could obtain immediate legal control of the property and begin searching for a new tenant.
Dancing Goat Coffee planned to offer high-quality, custom-blend coffee drinks, organic fruit smoothies, grab-and-go pastries and lunch options, and would have been open the same hours as the playground in The Commons, according to Roggow’s application.
The former Snappy Tomato space shares 15 tables and bar seating with a Subway restaurant nearby.
Roggow’s business plan called for eight part-time or four full-time employees.
Roggow now operates a BikeCaffe — a fully mobile kiosk powered by bicycle — at the Columbus Learning Center in the city’s municipal AirPark.
He also sells coffee at the Columbus Summer Farmers Market, at JCB NeighborFEST and in front of The Garage Pub & Grille before the restaurant opens for lunch.
His Columbus customer base is bolstered by staff members and students from IUPUC and Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus.
The operator’s first experience with a BikeCaffe franchise was in Denver, where he first opened up business in February 2013.
Roggow moved to Columbus to be close to his wife’s family and started the coffee shop operation earlier this year.
Roggow said he had hoped to expand to The Commons because of the opportunity for walk-in traffic and its close proximity to the Commons’ playground.
Abrams said he hopes Roggow resubmits, and the restaurant operator said he is considering reapplying.
Roggow said he has been told he can reapply with a more specific business plan, including more information about financial viability.
But while the former Snappy Tomato location still has appeal to Roggow, he said he is also looking at other options.
New search underway
Heather Pope, the city’s redevelopment director, recently sent out more than 190 letters and fliers to commercial real estate brokers in and around Bartholomew County requesting proposals to fill the space. The next proposals for the space are due an hour before the commission’s meeting Sept. 15.
The city hopes to rent the space for $6,780 to $9,153 a year based on appraisals and to offer a five-year lease with an option to renew, Pope said.
With the new tenant search, Pope said, the commission is using an identical search process as when selecting Jordy McTaggart’s to fill The Commons space formerly occupied by Scotty’s Burger Joint and Detour American Grille & Bar. But this time, more brokers have been contacted, and the request packet included a specific scoring matrix so applicants know how they will be evaluated.
By using a proposal process, rather than competitive bidding, the city is not required to take the highest bidder and can instead make its decision based on other factors such as experience, menu and regional draw.
The new request already has received some responses, and one applicant has toured the space, Pope said.