The Columbus Redevelopment Commission has decided to pay $21,021 to the owner of Scotty’s Burger Joint in order to gain complete, public control of all four retail leases in The Commons, another step toward killing the private company that approved the leases.
Unpaid costs related to the construction of the space for Scotty’s, near Fourth and Washington streets in The Commons, have been unresolved for more than a year. Mert Shipman, Scotty’s owner, has been asking for the remaining $25,521 that he has not been reimbursed from initial cost overruns of $46,303.
Terms of the construction, which included allowing Shipman to use his own construction firm to do the work, were agreed to through Columbus Downtown Inc., the private company that was created during former Mayor Fred Armstrong’s administration. CDI’s role was to acquire property, negotiate deals and assign leases on behalf of the redevelopment commission.
“None of this money was treated like public money. We’re not doing business like this anymore. Unfortunately, this is the way it was done,” Mayor Kristen Brown said during Monday’s redevelopment commission meeting.
Stan Gamso, attorney for the redevelopment commission and CDI, told members that Scotty’s was required to submit construction blueprints for approval, but none were submitted. Nor were any change orders publicly approved, Gamso said.
Shipman has been refusing to pay utility bills — which were not metered correctly — and refusing to reassign his lease from CDI to the public Columbus Redevelopment Commission. Scotty’s owes $28,762.44 for unpaid electric and water and sewer bills.
Scotty’s is the only one of the four restaurants in The Commons yet to agree to reassign its lease.
Once all four leases are reassigned, and a $300,000 dispute with the developer of the downtown Cole apartments is resolved, Brown said she believed the last of the CDI issues would be resolved, and CDI would cease to exist.
Susan Thayer Fye, appointed head of CDI at the beginning of the year to understand all of its involvements, recommended to the commission that it pay just $11,750 to Shipman for costs that were directly related to the space.
Gamso said the commission could opt not to pay and just proceed with lease termination because Shipman had not paid the utilities.
That idea was supported by one Columbus resident at the meeting.
“I’m asking as a taxpayer in this community that you turn this down and pay nothing,” Mike Lovelace said.
The commission, however, agreed to pay most of what Shipman claims he is owed but opted not to pay $4,500 for two items they considered the results of his personal choices.
“It’s a point of diminishing returns on this. We’re trying to get this settled,” commission member Frank Jerome said.
After the vote, Lovelace said he was disappointed in the commission’s decision, feeling as if it had acted like the previous administration that approved the deal.
Shipman’s payment would come with strings. He first must pay his entire utility bill within 15 days and reassign his lease. If he doesn’t, he will be sent a letter saying he has broken the terms of his lease and the city will proceed with termination of the restaurant’s lease.
While commission members said they were unhappy with how public money was used previously for this project, Brown said it’s important that the dispute now is being resolved in public.