Photograph by Steven Higgs
The Victoria Towers building on the corner of Kirkwood and Lincoln is one of seven Kirkwood properties to sell in the past two years. Three of the seven – the Von Lee Theater, Jiffy Treet and Chipotle buildings – are owned by out-of-state corporations. Four, including Victoria Towers, sold for more than a million dollars.
New window dressings on the corner of Kirkwood and Washington do not portend a new era in the 49-year home of Ladyman's Cafe.
The building permit taped on the window by the door was issued to PK Group LLC for "adding light fixtures, drywall repair and flooring," according to the permit, not for erecting 50-foot-high concrete block walls, which had been planned.
And the "lifestyle townhouses and apartments" promoted in the window stencil will not be swanky digs with Kirkwood views for wealthy college kids.
The advertised Village at Muller Park, in fact, is out on the Indiana 37 Bypass. PK is a development group that will use the former Roadworthy Guitar as a leasing office.
But any changes in the status quo there are curious, given the election season and Finelight Strategic Marketing Communication's announced plans to move from downtown to the west side, across the highway from Muller Park.
They also serve to remind citizens in the run-up to city elections that downtown Bloomington is rapidly transforming.
And, according to the public record, the big boys are turning some big bucks.
After pushing the profitable, 49-year-old Ladyman's out of business last year, Finelight and its real estate development arm, Heartland Development Group, announced last summer that they were abandoning plans for a five-story office building at Kirkwood and Washington called Kirkwood Place.
They got peeved after Mayor Mark Kruzan balked at building a $4.25 million parking garage -- with a skywalk to Finelight -- on the city parking lot at Fourth and Washington, after citizens provided him with compelling evidence that only about half of the existing parking garage spaces are ever used at any given time.
During the campaign, Democrat Kruzan’s opponent, Republican David Sabbagh, has called Finelight’s decision to leave downtown a “lost opportunity.”
But Finelight only told the media that it was leaving downtown.
The company never officially withdrew the plans, according to Assistant City Planning Director Josh Desmond. Finelight could resurrect them at anytime, no questions asked.
"Under Indiana state law, once those plans are filed with us, they remain valid for a period of three years from the filing date (which was Feb. 6, 2007, in this case)," he explained in an e-mail. "While Finelight was never issued a construction permit for these plans, they could still request one during that three year-window, which would be granted based on the filed site plans."
According to a county property records database, former Democratic Bloomington City Councilman Jim Regester's $1 million sale of the Ladyman's building in March 2006 is average for Kirkwood properties that have sold in the last two years.
Sales disclosure forms show that seven Kirkwood properties have been sold since August 2005 for between $660,000 and $1.44 million.
They averaged $1.04 million.
And while only five of 37 Kirkwood parcels are owned by out-of-towners - one of whom lives but two counties over in Columbus - three properties have sold to out-of-state corporations since the average cost topped a million.
Tartan Realty from Chicago, doing business as Bloomington Kirkwood LLC, purchased the Von Lee Theater and Jiffy Treet buildings.
According to the property's sales disclosure form, Kerasotes Indiana Theaters, which had owned the Von Lee building since 1977, sold it to Chris P. Amore in May 2003 for $650,000. On the same day, Amore transferred the property to CAAM LLC, which sold it to Tartan in August 2005 for $850,000.
In May 2006, Kirkwood LLC II purchased the Jiffy Treet building for $660,000 from Mary Hazel, who, with her deceased husband Lannis, had owned it since 1959.
In between the Tartan purchases, in July 2006, local real estate agent and one-time Republican mayoral candidate Tim Ellis purchased the Kirkwood and Dunn building occupied by Greetings for $825,000.
Ellis bought the building from Thomas Fulkerson, whose family had owned it since 1974.
That was the last under-seven-figure building sold on Kirkwood.
The most expensive piece of Kirkwood property sold thus far is the parcel occupied by Chipotle Mexican Grill, formerly the site of downtown's only MacDonald's.
The county records say Trillium Management Co. out of Reno, Nev., purchased the site in March 2006 for $1.4 million from CRICCHIP Acquisition Company II LLC.
Locals Richard Schmalz and Mary Susan Fox owned the property until January 2006, when they sold it to Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which immediately transferred it to CRICCHIP.
Local developer Bruce Storm, who had owned the Victoria Towers Building on the northwest corner of Kirkwood and Lincoln since 1985, sold it to Victoria Towers LLC in January 2006 for $1.34 million.
A warranty deed on the property prepared by attorney and then-Republican County Commissioner Herb Kilmer was signed by Clayton Nunes.
County records show that the I.O.O.F. Lodge building at 108 E. Kirkwood Ave., where Athena used to be, sold for $1 million in January 2007 and again for $1.15 million two months later.
County property and sales records still list the I.O.O.F. as the owner, but the property's warranty deed shows it was transferred from the lodge to Upland Development LLC and then to ERL5 LLC. Elliot R. Lewis signed documents for ERL5.
Former Democratic Mayor John Fernandez spearheaded Finelight's Kirkwood and Washington project as a Finelight vice president and Heartland Development's president. In documents presented to the city, the project was called Kirkwood Place.
County records show that the Noland family owned the property until 1996, when it sold to Regester and Arthur M. Staggs. In 1997, the property transferred to Regester alone.
County records show the owner today as Walnut Street Development LLC, whose address is 101 W. Kirkwood.
E-mails sent to the principals of PK Group were not returned.
The PK Web site says the company has "two prime retail lifestyle sites under development on the Northern and Southern sides of Bloomington, Indiana" - Northgate on North College and Blackwell Station on Sare Road.
Sabbagh has said during the campaign that the city's failure to "partner" with Northgate is another "missed opportunity."
Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.