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Panel weighs in on Commons renters

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Board members who oversee The Commons want more detailed revenue data after learning one of the facility’s restaurants had not paid rent for a year.

Commons Board member Tracy Souza suggested a new procedure for parks staff Wednesday that would immediately red-flag issues such as Commons tenant Snappy Tomato Pizza owing more than $27,000 in back rent, utilities and penalties for 2013.

In addition to revenue data, Souza said the board also would like more detailed information on all of The Commons goals, such as the number of free performances, space rentals or other revenue streams.

If instituted, this would be the second new procedure for oversight at The Commons since city officials learned Snappy Tomato Pizza was a year behind in rent.

The Commons Board is directly responsible for the direction and the oversight of the private and public space in The Commons.

It previously delegated managing the restaurant leases to the Columbus Redevelopment Commission.

The redevelopment commission further delegated the responsibility for collecting and depositing restaurant lease payments to the parks department personnel who operate The Commons office.

What’s next

What: Snappy Tomato Pizza restaurant in The Commons has not paid rent, utilities or penalties in 12 months; city officials contend the company owes $27,238.

Today: Columbus Parks and Recreation Department Board will meet in closed session at 11 a.m. at Donner Center, 739 22nd St., to discuss personnel matters. It will be followed by an open meeting at noon at City Hall, 123 Washington St., to elect officers, approve claims and have a presentation of staff reports.

Friday: Columbus Redevelopment Commission will meet in closed session at 3 p.m., Friday at City Hall, ., to discuss possible litigation.

Last week, Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown and Matt Caldwell, the city’s director of operations and finances instituted new rules for handling lease and utility payments after learning about Snappy Tomato. Commons staff members, who are Columbus Parks and Recreation Department employees, must provide a monthly financial report detailing restaurant lease and utility payments and deliver it to city officials and the parks board each month, according to the new procedure.

In The Commons Board proposal, Souza suggested that parks department employees prepare a “dashboard” document showing financial information about all restaurants in The Commons and the status of other revenue streams.

The procedure would operate like a traffic light, with a red entry warning board members that there was a critical issue to address, while a yellow would mean minor problems. The data would be included in a document packet Commons board members receive for their meetings.

The “dashboard” procedure would help board members sort through the many pages of data Commons board members receive each month from the parks staff, Souza said. That data includes information about rentals of the facility, payments, overall revenue received and comparative data from year to year.

Brown said last week that while The Commons Board receives monthly financial reports, the reports are a broad overview of receipts and expenditures, not a detailed look at individual renters or other revenue streams. She said the format allowed higher than anticipated revenues in other areas to mask the absence of Snappy Tomato rent payments.

The Commons Board, the parks department, city hall, Columbus Redevelopment Commission, parks board and city officials have been drawn into the controversy when Stan Gamso, redevelopment commission attorney, learned about Snappy Tomato had not paid rent, utilities and penalties for a year.

The restaurant failed to meet the city’s demand to pay $27,238 in back rent and utilities by Tuesday. The city did receive a response from Snappy Tomato by the Tuesday deadline, but it is being kept confidential by city officials as they contend it is part of “pending litigation.”

Souza complimented the parks staff on the amount of data that was being provided to The Commons board in the current format, but said the new system would be more specific.

“... I think we are trying to say ‘what do we really need to know?’ What are the revenue numbers really looking like? What is the programming?” Souza said.

Board members will decide what specific information would be included in the “dashboard” and monthly reports. Board member Paige Harden suggested the “dashboard” information be placed on The Commons website or through the digital display screens throughout the building.

The Commons Board met Wednesday for the first time since the Snappy Tomato lease issue surfaced but had little conversation about the restaurant or Wagner’s departure. City Attorney Jeff Logston told the board that the Columbus Redevelopment Commission would meet in closed session Friday to discuss the legal issues about the dispute with Snappy Tomato.

Brown cited the lack of payments by Snappy Tomato Pizza as a catalyst for her decision to demote former parks department director Ben Wagner to the department’s marketing coordinator on Dec. 30.

Parks board members, who oversee the parks department, said they were never told the department was in charge of the collection of the lease money.

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