Downtown adieu packs punch

Dateline: Sun 05 Nov 2006

Driving on South Meridian Street with daughter Elizabeth a few weeks ago, during one of her visits back home again to Indy from Chicago, she posed a question: what had become of the Hollywood Bar & Filmworks? The popular joint, a landmark, a fave rave, was still there, I assured her; somehow we had just missed the sign, I said.

I was wrong. Owner Ted Bulthaup has called it quits, after 15 years of not only energetically and creatively serving the public but also taking the hits as point man for the myriad issues that bedevil the owners of small Downtown establishments. Sign of the times? You be the judge.

Bulthaup is not only a successful businessman; he is every reporter's dream. He's never been reluctant to go on record with his views or to challenge the powers that be; he is a meticulous researcher who hones in on a problem and then analyzes it to produce solutions. Hence the lengthy email he sent Friday pretty much nails it: parking prices Downtown and the politics that drive those prices sky high forced him to shut down his Indy operation (he has another successful venture in suburban Chicago).

Bulthaup promises an ad in an upcoming issue of the Indianapolis Business Journal that will further elaborate on his experience, but here are some of his main points:

--Parking rates are inflated during special Downtown events, sometimes as much as 735 percent. Bulthaup regular patrons simply couldn't afford to pay $60-$80 a month just to see movies Downtown.

"Councilor Phil Borst conducted a fact finding mission and found there was a big problem," writes Bulthaup. "The City Council held a hearing and found there was a very real problem, Mayor Peterson said he realized there was a big problem when he addressed a large group of us at the now defunct Majestic Oyster Bar...

"Over three dozen local restaurants signed a petition to the Mayor saying this was the biggest problem they faced; two thirds of them have either closed or sold to get out of downtown. I'm next."

--Bulthaup lays the blame squarely on Mayor Bart Peterson's shoulders and takes to task Peterson's former director of development Melina Kennedy and Dowtown Inc's Tamara Zahn.

He writes: "While Peterson pays lip service to the importance of the industry I am in, (for public consumption he pays lip service to everything good in the world) he comes from a big money developer family, and a wealthy background (his father donated about $1,000,000 to his first campaign). Peterson just doesn't understand the importance of small businesses. Small business is the back bone of any resurgent downtown because they make up the tenants for any developer and provide the largest area for job creation. Likewise the restaurant industry is the second largest employer in the state. You would think he'd understand, but he treats all small businesses as expendable, they can all be easily replaced. He just doesn't?t get it. His attitude just doesn't work, even with the downtown propaganda machine in full gear. That theory also leaves a lot of broken, bitter and unemployed people in its wake."

Finally, among the straws that broke his theater's back --

Kennedy "would not solve the parking problems created by the Capital Improvement Board who are largely funded by food & beverage taxes taken from my industries customers; but she found $11 million dollars so the Simons, (wealthy campaign contributors) could have free parking at their new city funded headquarters. I agree the Simons needed to be kept downtown, but I resent the government who would give them free parking on taxpayer funded improvements while the businesses who work hard and provide the source of that revenue get screwed by Peterson and the CIB."

--"Peterson doubled the food & beverage tax so that now both sports teams make more from my business than I do. There is something fundamentally wrong with his administration when Jim Irsay makes more money from my own customers than I do. I don't have anything against either sports team for getting whatever money they can; I do have something against a government that takes the money from my customers,

uses it in a way that discourages non-sports related visits to downtown and won't listen to (and even reneges on promises to) the business guys on the front line."

I've heard bits and pieces of these arguments over the years. That is because Bulthaup worked tirelessly to educate the media and anyone who would listen about the shared problems his business and others suffered. What a crying shame that his final sermon must come in the form of a farewell.

He will be missed. So will Hollywood Bar & Filmworks. But most of all, Indianapolis will miss Bulthaup's intense candor.

I wish him the best! And maybe Elizabeth can catch his show near Chicago.


MEA CULPEA: For a few hours, this post incorrectly identified the man who sent me the email about the closing as the owner of Hollywood Bar & Filmworks. The correct owner is Ted Bulthaup. Thanks to the reader who pointed out that mistake.


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