Millionaire businessman Bill Mays and his partners broke all the rules to land their "private club/bar" for "African-American professionals" in the Julia Carson Government Center and now he wants you to feel sorry for him because he invested $100,000 in the backroom deal. The Star's Will Higgins writes:
Millionaire businessman Bill Mays is known as a savvy dealmaker, but there's one investment he'd like to have back right now: the six figures he put into his would-be bar and restaurant in the Carson Government Center.
"If I'd had any idea of all this controversy," Mays said, "I'd have never put my $100,000 up. I'd have gone to Europe. I'd have invested it in Fishers."
Instead, Mays' investment has drawn fire, in part because the plans initially called for paving over an adjacent playground. Some people also have raised questions about the appropriateness of a bar in a building where the people's business is done.
This is where Mays comments become very offensive, just as when Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer said when this deal first became public that this would be a place for "African-American professionals" to network. Quoting Mays, Higgins writes:
Mays thinks the place -- on the ground floor of a seven-story affair with a wide range of private-sector tenants that occupy the majority of the building -- would be a boon to the neighborhood and a welcome addition to the black-owned hospitality scene.
"You try to do something nice, upscale," not another nightclub that stays open into the early-morning hours, he said. "There is not another establishment in the black community as nice as that place. So you have African-Americans that have to go to holes in the wall. Don't even have windows."
But wait a minute. Higgins has to remind Mays that it is against the law to discriminate. "The law, of course, says people can go to any restaurant or bar they want to, regardless of their race," Higgins writes. "Technically yes," said Mays, "but let's get real. In practical terms, folks like to be in an atmosphere they're comfortable in." Can you imagine the public outrage if a prominent white businessman had made that same statement? Amos Brown would be screaming bloody racism for weeks.
Higgins, who notes that the investors "had declined to discuss their enterprise" since it came to public attention, also discussed the project with Lacy Johnson. "This is a labor of love," said Lacy Johnson, the largest investor. "Making money was never our intent," Johnson said. "We wanted to reinvest in our community." Johnson and Mays claim that the investors collectively invested $500,000 in the project. Higgins writes:
Johnson, Mays and a handful of others ponied up about $500,000 to convert the empty space in the government building's ground floor.Higgins notes that the project must still gain approval from the Metropolitan Development Commission. The Metropolitan Development Commission, thanks to city-county councilor Lonnell Conley's wife, Judith, signed off on the project in record time, ignoring the fact that the private club/bar had already been built without first obtaining the proper permits and rezoning/variance approvals and in violation of numerous building code requirements. The Commission is merely considering an appeal brought about when community activist, Clark Kahlo, raised objections to the obliteration of Polin Park to make way for a parking lot for the establishment's employees. Higgins' article makes no mention of these illegalities, including the stop work order the DMD issued against the private/club bar in June after receiving an anonymous tip.
Work on the place looks complete. The interior is done in browns and terra cotta. Abstract paintings hang on the walls. The bar is made of granite. There are tables and sofas and an outdoor deck.
Even more disappointing is Higgins failure to reach out to people in the neighborhood who have strongly opposed this project. Instead, Higgins writes, "Its critics include Eric Dickerson, the Republican candidate for the 7th U.S. Congressional District, who has railed against the idea of putting a bar in a government building." He adds, "Several neighbors have objected, too, although Shary Johnston, executive director of the area's neighborhood association, recently wrote to Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer to express support for the effort 'to bring a quality restaurant to the Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood.'" Hmmm.
Mays and Johnson try to pounce on the fact that they've withdrawn their plans to pave over the former Polin Park as removing the initial public opposition. Of course, there are no plans to restore the playground equipment and the land's use as a park, which met an untimely demise early on in the project without any public input.
Higgins also runs down what other public officials think about the project. Councilor Patrice Abdullah, who sought a delay in the hearing on the appeal, says his constituents oppose serving liquor in a government building. Mayor Peterson, who is very close to Lacy Johnson, said, "I don't have any intention of getting involved in that." That's because he's no doubt been ordered by Johnson to keep his mouth shut about the project. Rep. Carson also said she remained opposed to serving alcohol in the building. "I just think we have other things to do at the government center," she said. Of course, Tully told us yesterday that the investors told him she really supports it so I guess we should disregard that statement.
Higgins also fails to inform his readers about what the terms of the lease are. If the Star hasn't obtained a copy of this public document, it is not doing its job to keep its readers informed. Higgins mentions Drummer's failed efforts to get a Starbucks, McDonalds and a Dunkin Donuts in the space, notwithstanding the low rent in the building. He says the building commands rents of between $8 and $12 a square foot.
This is a start, but we need more information than Higgins provided us today. Keep digging Will. There's still much more to be reported.