The stop work order notes that the space was "converted into a bar" and that the work was "completed." An inspector for DMD notes that he "returned a phone call to Lacy Johnson . . . to discuss progress towards obtaining permits" the day after the stop work order was issued by the city. Johnson is listed as the tenant's contact at One American Square, Suite #3100, Indianapolis on at least one of the entries; other entries show his address at the government center at 300 E. Fall Creek Parkway. The One American Square address is that of Ice Miller, the law firm where Johnson works. Johnson's son, according to the Indianapolis Star, is the registered agent for the business entity seeking to open a restaurant/bar in the government center. That's important because two attorneys for Ice Miller are now listed as attorneys for Center Township; an earlier on-line posting of MDC's agenda showed the attorneys as representing the city's parks department in the petition before the Metropolitan Development Commission to rezone the park land adjacent to the property. Johnson and the law firm have also represented Center Township, the building's owner, in the past.
According to observers at yesterday's hearing of the MDC, the petition to obtain a variance for the parking lot was withdrawn by Ice Miller's attorneys at yesterday's hearing to consider an appeal of the decision by hearing officer Judith Conley approving both the rezoning and variance petitions for the property, which would have permitted the use of the tenant space for a restaurant/bar and the adjacent property where a park once existed as a new parking lot for the employees of the restaurant/bar. At the request of Councilor Patrice Abdullah, the petition for the variance has been continued until October 4. It is important to note that the building's landlord, Center Township, did not petition for the appropriate variance and zoning changes for the changed use of the property until July after it had already completed construction of the restraurant/bar and outdoor wood deck seating. The hearing examiner nonetheless swiftly approved the request despite the numerous problems previously identified by DMD inspectors.
Not only did the township, the tenant and the general contractor fail to obtain the necessary rezoning, variance and permits to convert the tenant space to a restaurant/bar and to build a parking lot on the former park prior to commencing the construction work, the construction work failed to comply with numerous state and local building code requirements as noted in the city's activity report for Keystone Construction Corp.'s permit file. Among the violations cited include the following, some of which are quite serious from a public safety perspective:
- Failure to construct a 2-hour rated fire wall between the restaurant/bar and the office space occupying the remainder of the building.
- Failure to install an automatic fire detection system.
- Failure to install an emergency voice/alarm communication system.
- Failure to install exit signage and exit signage illumination.
- Construction of a deck with combustible materials in violation of building code.
- Failing to intall 1.5 hour fire-rated doors.
- Failure to properly light exterior deck and stairs.
- Failure to install accessible plumbing facilities.
- Failure to install grease traps on waste lines.
- Outdoor areas failed to include two means of egress.
- Failure to install duct smoke detectors in mechanicals.
The activity reports note that city inspectors met with Lacy Johnson and Carl Drummer more than a month after the initial stop work order was issued. The two tell the inspector the "zoning was approved yesterday", "that they have not opened per them", and that they are "currently in 'que' with ABC". Johnson and Drummer tell the inspector on July 28 that they plan to open the restaurant/bar "once the Liq. Lic. is received." What is particularly disturbing is a report that an open house has already been held at the restaurant/bar, even though proper procedures for legally establishing the facility have not been followed. I personally observed a large number of people streaming out of the building on the evening of Saturday, August 5, 2006, a time when all offices in the building are typically closed. Even more troubling is the fact that city records show that no fines have been levied against the contractor or anyone else for blatant violation of state and local building code and zoning requirements. Also, a permit was filed to place the signage for the restaurant/bar's name "300 East" on the building back in May, which has already been erected without the proper approvals!
As AI previously reported, Drummer quickly issued a statement on August 10 when GOP congressional candidate Eric Dickerson held a press conference at the government building to protest the removal of the park and the placement of a bar in a government building saying that no bar would be located in the restaurant "at this time." As the city's permit records disclose, Johnson and Drummer both fully intended to open up the restaurant with a bar as soon as it received its liquor license. They only shifted course after the public heat was turned up on them.
Oddly, Parks Director Joe Wynns is reported to have stated after the hearing that he was concerned about eliminating green space, and that his department had not agreed to the deal as represented by Drummer according to at least one of the attendees at yesterday's hearing. Then why did two attorneys for Ice Miller petition the city on behalf of the township to rezone the Polin Park land for commercial use and why did Wynns authorize the removal of the playground equipment from the park? Does the township's sudden decision to withdraw the petition seeking a variance for the parking lot now mean that the parks department plans to restore the former park as it was before the playground equipment was abruptly removed from the park? Or will it support a petition to rezone the property to commerical use, thereby allowing a bar at this location?
The permit records and yesterday's hearing raise more questions than they answer. Who paid for the build-out of the restaurant bar and the outside deck, which improvements city records indicated cost $90,000 and $5,000, respectively? Who paid for the exterior signage on the building? Who's paying Ice Miller's legal fees? Can Center Township please make a copy of the lease between the township and the tenant publicly available immediately so we can determine whether this was an arm's length transaction? Who are the owners of this proposed new establishment? Why hasn't the city levied fines against anyone for violating building and zoning laws? These and many more questions must be answered by those responsible for this sordid deal.The more we learn about this project, the smellier it gets. It's about time the Marion Co. prosecutor launched an investigation into this deal.