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City officials today will quiz restaurateurs who have shown an interest in becoming Commons tenants and could present a recommendation as early as next week.
A tenant review committee composed of members of City Council, Columbus Redevelopment Commission and The Commons Board will review the four proposals submitted last week to fill the Washington Street space formerly occupied by Scotty’s Burger Joint and Detour American Grille & Bar. The committee will meet privately at 8 a.m. today at The Commons.
Potential tenants will have the opportunity to meet with the board and make presentations. The committee can request more information of any of the bidders it chooses, said Heather Pope, director of redevelopment for the city.
Although the city is losing almost $7,000 a month in revenue while the space is empty, Mayor Kristen Brown said the city is under no pressure to choose a tenant if the fit will not be right.
“It is a really important space,” Brown said. “The community has invested, and continues to invest, an enormous amount of public money. Leases last a very long time.”
The mayor said she is uncomfortable with the city being in the retail landlord business and that if there were no proposal chosen, she would want to get the public’s opinion on whether the city should even continue trying to fill the space. Brown said the city could keep the empty restaurant space open and transform it into more room that could be rented for functions or left available for public use.
“The space could be very viable as a combination public-use and private-rental space,” Brown said.
If the city were to choose to go that route, it would help make The Commons more open to the public — a goal of Brown’s. It would also bring in some revenue from the space to offset the operational cost of The Commons, Brown said.
The city was left with the empty space after owners of the former Scotty’s Burger Joint, Greenhouse Restaurants LLC, ended their management agreement with Scotty’s operators in December. The owners converted the restaurant into a Detour restaurant but ran into a disagreement with the city because the lease specifically called for a Scotty’s. The city and restaurant owners were headed toward resolving the dispute in court but parted ways in March when Detour closed and moved its equipment out overnight. In April, the city and restaurant owners agreed to sever the lease.
At that point, the city had two legal paths to fill the space, Brown said. It could have simply sought bids and awarded a contract to the highest bidder. However, with the importance of The Commons and the neighboring playground, city officials chose an alternate path by requesting proposals. The city has the option of choosing the most appropriate of the proposals under criteria set by the city, rather than being tied to the highest bidder.
Pope said that if the committee reaches a recommendation this week, the city likely would schedule a special meeting of the redevelopment commission next week. The commission could then choose to begin contract negotiations with the presenter of the winning proposal.
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