Higgins instead gives us an assurance from city parks director Joe Wynns that the former Polin Park will remain a green space. Note that he said "green space" and not "park space." That has a lot of significance because as Higgins reports, the concept of a restaurant/bar in the government center remains alive. If the land were to be restored as a children's park as it was previously used, it would pose zoning problems for the proposed bar because of its close proximity to the park. The Center Township Trustee, at a recent hearing considering an appeal of the earlier MDC approval of the project, withdrew his petition to rezone the park space so that it could be used as a parking lot for the restaurant/bar's employees.
As for Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer, he's not talking. Instead, he's hired a "public relations counselor", as Higgins calls him, to tell reporters that plans for the restaurant/bar are full steam ahead. "Drummer's newly hired public relations counselor, David Ayers of MZD Advertising, confirmed that Drummer continues to push for the restaurant-bar," Higgins reported. Lacy Johnson, the Ice Miller attorney who DMD permit documents identify as representing the proposed restaurant/bar's owners, which includes his son who bears his namesake, has gone into hiding and is not returning phone calls. The young Johnson is doing the same Higgins reports. Here's where Higgins' reporting becomes really comical. He writes:
If approved, the business would be built on the ground floor of the center. A deck already has been erected for outdoor seating.
The establishment would be operated by a group of private investors who would lease the space from the trustee's office.
Ayers said the investors included prominent businessmen William Mays, Al Oak and Lacy Johnson III.
What can you make of Higgins' statement that the "business would be built" if approved? Is he not aware that it has already been built and was done so months ago before the proper building permits were obtained, or before any zoning/variance petitions had been filed with the Metropolitan Development Commission? Even Ayres gives Higgins that the investors have spent "$500,000 to remodel about 2,000 square feet at the government center." That figure is very hard to believe, particularly since DMD permit documents pegged the costs at just under $100,000. The point of inflating the number is no doubt intended to stir sympathy for the investors. You know the one. "We've already spent a half million dollars. How can you possibly turn down our request now? That wouldn't be fair."
Also, is Higgins unaware that the Department of Metropolitan Development issued a stop work order on the site after an anonymous tip clued it in on the mischief of Drummer and friends? Or does he not know that the signage for the new business has already been erected on the west side of the building? He does acknowledge that the wood deck has already been constructed, but you can't drive by the building without noticing that. He must not have read the DMD's activity report that noted that the deck's construction violated city building code requirements.
I don't think anyone will be surprised to learn that businessmen William Mays and Al Oak are investors in the business, along with Johnson's son, as Higgins reports. Higgins fails to mention in his report though that attorneys for Ice Miller are representing the Center Township Trustee in Drummer's quest to have the property rezoned to permit the space on the first floor to be used as a restaurant/bar. Johnson, a partner at Ice Miller, and his law firm have performed legal work for the township in the past. The apparent conflict of interest should have been raised in Higgins' reporting, particularly since DMD permit documents identify Johnson, and not his son, as the contact for the tenant at his Ice Miller address. But he's missed all of the other important matters in this sordid deal so I don't think we should be surprised.
Higgins reminds us that the hearing for the appeal of the zoning/variance petitions for the project will be conducted on October 4. He notes that city-county councilor Patrice Abdullah (D) in whose district the project resides is opposed to putting a bar in the government center. Higgins writes, "Abduallah, who is a Muslim and doesn't drink alcohol, feels the same way." "I think it's unethical to put a bar in a government building," he said. Higgins also reminds us that Rep. Julia Carson is against the bar. "Congresswoman Julia Carson, for whom the building is named, said she, too, opposes serving booze in the building," he said. Higgins adds, "But Carson said she doubts the commission will go along with the recommendation [to approve the zoning/variance petitions]." "There's just been too much drama about all this," she said. Hmmm. Does she know something we don't? Stay tuned.