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Compared with Mayor Kristen Brown’s proposal to increase the free use of The Commons, the city is facing a much bigger loss of revenue from the vacancy at the former Scotty’s Burger Joint retail space.
Brown estimated that The Commons would lose about $12,000 in revenues from her proposals, but it is losing that much for every two months the largest retail space in the building sits vacant. In a best-case scenario, city officials expect the space to be filled early next year.
In her 2014 budget proposal, the mayor wants to give The Commons another $28,000 in funds from the city’s income taxes to offset the loss of the retail revenue.
If all the retail spaces were full, The Commons would generate about $176,000 annually, according to city estimates. However, with loss of the $6,888 in monthly revenue from the empty Scotty’s space, the city is expecting only $144,375 in rental revenue next year.
The former Scotty’s restaurant space has been vacant since March.
Greenhouse Restaurants LLC, owner of the local Scotty’s franchise and later Detour American Grille & Bar, feuded with the city in late 2012 over utility bills, payments over the buildout expenses of the storefront and whether to voluntarily allow its lease to be managed by the Columbus Redevelopment Commission. When the owners switched from the well-known Scotty’s chain to the new Detour restaurant, the city declared the owners to be in breach of their contract.
In March, before the matter could go before a judge, the owners closed the restaurant and moved out overnight.
The Columbus Redevelopment Commission manages the retail space leases for The Commons Board and is in charge of finding a tenant for the space. Under the previous administration, the retail leases were managed by Columbus Downtown Inc., a city-created company that was used so that lease negotiations could be done quickly and privately.
Brown fought against the CDI deal as a private citizen, creating her own corporation to bid against CDI when the management contract was awarded and campaigning on a transparent government platform. One of the major initiatives of her first 15 months in office was to disentangle CDI from city operations and to move all of its duties to public boards. In March, CDI was disbanded.
Under the new arrangement, all of the meetings and discussions about the eventual tenant are being done in public.
In July, the Redevelopment Commission contracted with Russell Development Co. to market and find potential renters for the vacant space. Heather Pope, the redevelopment director, said the requests for proposals are due back to the commission next month. She estimated it would be early next year before the space could be filled.
Although the proposals will be submitted to the Redevelopment Commission, discussion will be handled by a subcommittee of members of the commission, City Council and The Commons Board:
The final proposal or proposals will need approval from The Commons Board, the Redevelopment Commission and two votes of the City Council.
Sherry Stark, president of The Commons Board, said that the board is eager to have the space filled.
“It is lost revenue, but to me the more important thing is that it is lost activity, it is a lost draw, a magnet for downtown,” Stark said. “We want to convey a sense of activity and excitement, so we are really eager to get that place filled.”
Tracy Souza, president of the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County and a Commons Board member, said the board always has felt a responsibility to use the building as a way to generate activity in downtown
“We didn’t want to have a plan just to make the downtown look good,” she said. “We wanted to have a business plan that made it work from an economic perspective. The way you make the downtown work is to get people down there at all hours of the day. It is not just 8 to 5. It is on the weekends, it is in the
“The more activity that you can drive down there, your merchants get to sell stuff, your restaurant people get to sell food.
“We want people at The Commons. We want them to feel really comfortable going down there — to the whole Commons, not just the playground — but it is also good for the whole downtown.”
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