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City golf vendor says Indy Parks is pushing him out but parks department denies wrongdoing

At the end of this year, Mark Nance will go from operating three city golf facilities to not having a single one. Whose fault that is depends on who's talking. Nance says Indy Parks and Recreation told him in 2016 he would get at least one contract to operate a facility if he gave up a five-year extension the city offered him years earlier. The parks department says it made no such promise to Nance and that his bid simply wasn't good enough this time around.

Nance, president of MAN Golf Management, has operated Riverside Golf Course and Riverside Golf Academy since 2010 and Coffin Golf Club since 2009. In 2015, during the last year of former Mayor Greg Ballard's administration, Indy Parks offered Nance and other vendors a five-year extension on their contracts. Nance took the extension.

But one of his golf courses, Coffin, was running into constant struggles. Construction projects from the Department of Public Works and Marian University, along with flooding, made what's supposed to be one of the city's best public golf courses unplayable at times.

Nance said, as a result, he had a meeting in the fall of 2016 with Indy Parks Director Linda Broadfoot and Chief Financial Officer Angie Clark, among others, who offered him a deal: If Nance backed out of his five-year extension, he would get at least one contract for a golf facility when his current deal expired.

That time has come. Nance's contracts are up at the end of the year, and Indy Parks awarded contracts to Coffin and Riverside Golf Academy to RN Thompson Development, a familiar group for golfers in the area who play at both private and public courses. Nance's other facility, Riverside Golf Course, is closing at the end of the year as part of an Indy Parks redevelopment project.

(Coffin and Riverside Golf Course, along with South Grove Golf Course, are part of Riverside Regional Park.)

"It's very obvious they want me out, and it looks like that's what's gonna happen," Nance said in an interview at Coffin. "But the fight will continue whether I'm here or not. What they've done to me is wrong in so many ways."

Mike O'Toole, who manages Riverside Golf Academy, said he was at the meeting in 2016. He doesn't remember if Indy Parks staff made an explicit guarantee to Nance but said "they sure made the impression" that he would get a new contract in 2019.

Indy Parks spokesperson Ronnetta Spalding said that meeting in 2016 did take place, but parks department staff didn't tell Nance he would get another contract when the agreement expired. She cited Indiana law, which requires these public-private operating agreements to go through a formal request-for-proposal process.

Bids are ranked according to the best value for taxpayers, and Nance's bid was ranked fifth out of six, according to Spalding. He did not advance to the final negotiation stage, where bidders can change the details of their

bids in negotiations with the parks department.

The parks department does not dispute that the struggles at Coffin are due in part to flooding and construction — things outside of Nance's control — but the city has given Nance more than $400,000 in subsidies, which has been used to offset some utility costs and insurance.

Nance is the only vendor subsidized by the city because Coffin has faced more obstacles than other facilities. Nance said he's lost $2.7 million over the last 10 years, and a comprehensive analysis of golf facilities by the city showed projected revenue at Coffin to be down more than $68,000 by 2022 compared to 2017, while revenue for all golf facilities was projected to climb by more than 4%.

The Indianapolis City-County Council still needs to approve the new vendor contracts for city golf facilities, but Nance knows he's running out of time. Since vendors own everything at their facilities, down to the tables and chairs, he'll have to start selling things before December.

Nance said he'll probably be out of the golf business if he isn't somehow able to salvage a contract.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


Martindale-Brightwood bank branch scheduled to close

After banking at 2435 N. Sherman Drive for 35 years, Nathan Oatts is considering moving to a different bank after learning PNC Financial Services will close the branch in November. The closing will leave not only Oatts and his employees with few banking options nearby, but many in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood will be affected as well.

"Having it right here was very convenient," Oatts, the owner of Oatts Trucking, said. "We're not even two blocks away. We have about 30 employees. A lot of them have bank accounts here, and they're disappointed about it, so it's very inconvenient."

The closing is especially troublesome as PNC was the last remaining financial institution in the area. The Sherman Drive location's last day of operation will be Nov. 15. The closest branch

for customers will be the Linwood Square PNC at 4355 E. 10th St. The move means there won't be any banks in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood.

The ATM will still be available. The transition will be automatic and won't affect accounts and debit and credit cards of customers who frequented the Sherman Drive location. However, those using safe deposit boxes must remove the contents by 5 p.m. Nov. 8. The bank will send clients information on how to transfer items to another PNC branch. For the inconvenience, PNC will provide a year of free rent for a similar size safe deposit box.

Marcey Zwiebel, a spokesperson for PNC, said, while PNC cannot give information on why the Sherman Drive branch will close, the closing is part of a banking trend as online banking options allow people to bank anywhere and make fewer visits to physical locations, causing banks nationwide to consolidate branches.

"The things customers are going into a branch to do are changing pretty significantly, so we have been making adjustments in order to continue to meet customers where they want to be met and how they want to be met," Zwiebel said.

Kim Saxton, an Indiana University Kelley School of Business clinical professor of marketing who has worked in banking, said a lack of access to banking is a problem in Indianapolis.

"Buying power, getting off of any kind of public support, maintaining a job, all of those things are in jeopardy when you don't have access to financial resources," Saxton said.

The departure of the bank from the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood causes James Wilson, founder of Circle Up Indy, to worry about the ripple effects of not having a local bank in the area. He believes if banks leave then more predatory financial institutions such as payday loans or check cashing businesses will fill the void.

"We're trying to get rid of all the liquor stores on every corner," Wilson said. "We're trying to get rid of all these institutions that come in and predatory lend or bring services that are not beneficial to the community."

Wilson's fear isn't without merit.

A reliance on payday loan companies instead of banks could be harmful to residents in the neighborhood because interest rates can be as high as 20%, Saxton said. Payday loan interest rates are frequently higher than credit card rates, meaning residents will have to pay more to have access to cash, she added.

"It dramatically decreases your ability to afford anything," Saxton said. "If you are already working multiple jobs and can barely afford rent, and if you then have to give up an extra percent simply to access cash, it further constrains the ability to have housing, to provide for your family and to not starve."

The distance between the Sherman Drive and Linwood Square locations is two miles. The closest non-PNC financial institutions are the Chase Bank, 4710 E. 10th St., and a Financial Health Federal Credit Union, 2401 E. 10th St. — neither are in the Martindale-Brightwood area. As someone with a car, PNC customer Elizabeth Simon is not worried about the distance to the Linwood location, but she is concerned about senior citizens who lack transportation and may have trouble using banking apps.

"I wish they wouldn't move it because there's so many elderly people," Simon said. "Not having transportation, this was the closest place for them to come. Going to Linwood or even Glendale is going to be pretty hard for them."

Zwiebel said PNC representatives are available to help customers though the transition. They can teach how to use banking apps and answer general questions. Customers can reach out to PNC via webchat on the bank's website, visit a branch or call customer care at 888762-2265.

PNC will also participate in two community conversation sessions Sept. 12 and 13 at Edna Martin Christian Center. During the conversation local residents and representatives from PNC will discuss how a lack of financial institutions impacts Black communities and what PNC and neighborhood residents should do next. Tysha Sellers, executive director of Edna Martin Christian Center, hopes the sessions will reveal ways PNC can continue a relationship within the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood and how the residents can find new financial resources.

"There is one bank, the only bank within the area, that is closing, but this is a larger conversation about financial institutions not being in communities of color, and what do we do now," Sellers said.

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.

Attend the community conversation

To share your thoughts about the PNC location closing and learn about what to do next, attend the community conversation sessions at 6 p.m. Sept.12 and noon Sept. 13 at the Edna Martin Christian Center, 2605 E. 25th St.

Contact PNC

To inquire about the consolidation, visit pnc.com, call 888-762-2265 or visit in person at 2435 N. Sherman Drive or 4355 E. 10th St.


THERE'S STILL WORK TO DO
Race and Cultural Relations Leadership Network celebrates 25 years

The Race and Cultural Relations Leadership Network (RCRLN) is celebrating its 25th anniversary with events through September and into October. The RCRLN was established in 1994 at the recommendation of former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and is part of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee.

The RCRLN is meant to start dialogues about race and cultural relations in and around Indianapolis. The last 25 years can be categorized

into some successes and other areas where there is still work to be done.

Toby Miller, director of the RCRLN, said there will really only be two events that are supposed to be a celebration: a panel discussion on Sept. 6 and a community celebration Oct. 6 at the Kennedy King Memorial in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Everything in between, he said, is a look at what's being done now to improve race and cultural relations.

"Racism is still there," Miller said, "but our capacity to respond is still better. We're still gonna have racially charged incidents, but our ability as a community to respond is infinitely better."

For those who attend any of the events happening over the next month, Miller said he hopes they'll have an opportunity to reflect on what's been done and also look forward to see what still needs to be addressed.

If race and cultural relations have improved over the last quarter century, former co-chair James Garrett said it would be difficult to tell because social media has made incidents more visible. But he and other leaders attest that whatever progress has been made in Indianapolis, the RCRLN has played a role.

Garrett said the RCRLN was able to step in, for example, when an artist wanted to have a rendering of a slave breaking free from chains displayed on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The artist, he explained, thought this would be a liberating depiction of African Americans, but local African Americans didn't want that. The RCRLN got in touch with the funders and artist and avoided the conflict.

The RCRLN has also expanded its vision over the years. It wasn't until about a decade ago that the organization added the cultural element, which has allowed leaders to focus on issues such as religion and the LGBT community.

Still, progress hasn't been at the pace they wanted from the beginning. Asked about what has changed in the last 25 years, Jan Clark, a founding co-chair, said she wishes things "had changed more."

"The goal was to help people get comfortable with a dialogue about race and racism because that's a very difficult thing to talk about," she said.

That's because, in part, the education system is failing students, according to Clark.

"The history we were taught is not the real history," she said. "Race and racism is embedded in a lot of the institutions that are part of America. In order to undo it we have to first acknowledge it and then figure out what it is we need to change."

Clark said that's what she wants attendees over the next month to do: learn about the issues facing Indianapolis, acknowledge that they exist, and then do something to change it. For some, that will mean acknowledging their own privileges, whether that's because of race, sex or wealth.

"If we're gonna be the democracy we say we are, we're gonna have to learn to live with one another a little better," Clark said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


Hogsett, Merritt square off in first mayoral debate

Mayor Joe Hogsett and Indiana Sen. Jim Merritt talked about inequality, public safety and roads, among other issues, at the first mayoral debate Aug. 29 at Crowne Plaza.

Hogsett, the Democratic incumbent, laid out a vision for Indianapolis that includes incentives for an $18 an hour minimum wage and a so-called commuter tax to help road repairs, while Merritt, a Republican, cast himself as the solution to Indianapolis' homicide problems and shied away from proposals that he said would put the city at a competitive disadvantage with neighbors. "

A recently released IndyPolitics.org poll showed Hogsett leading Merritt 55% to 27%. "

Here's what the candidates had to say about major issues they discussed at the debate, which was moderated by Indianapolis Business Journal city government reporter Hayleigh Colombo.

Inequality

Hogsett highlighted his plan that would require an $18 an hour minimum wage for businesses that apply for tax incentives as something that could help bring Indianapolis residents out of poverty. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 20% of people in Indianapolis live below the poverty level.

"It's not enough just to support underserved aspects of our city," he said. "But rather we must be about the business of changing outcomes. Until those outcomes change, systemic racism will still exist, and we'll fight it."

Merritt said he was skeptical of an $18 minimum wage because he's worried that would make Indianapolis businesses less competitive with suburban neighbors, as well as other cities around the country. He mostly talked instead about education as a pathway out of poverty.

Asked about census data that show Black workers make 56 cents on the dollar compared to white workers, Merritt said he would partner with Indianapolis Public Schools because "the idea of an achievement gap breaks my heart."

Speaking with reporters after the debate, Merritt said his campaign would develop a "Black agenda" but didn't give specifics. Hogsett was asked the same question and said his proposals — including the incentive for a higher minimum wage — would help African Americans.

Public safety

Indianapolis has set homicide records four years in a row, representing perhaps the darkest stain on Hogsett's administration and his biggest hurdle to being reelected. Hogsett pointed to a reduction in 2018 for overall violent crime as a sign of progress.

"That's not to say one homicide is not morally unacceptable," he said, "but the point is progress is being made."

After the debate, Hogsett

said he supports police body cameras for Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, an initiative partly funded in his 2020 spending plan.

This is where Merritt zeroed in on Hogsett in a debate where the candidates were asked to address the crowd and moderator, not each other.

"Mayor Joe, it hasn't worked," he said. "... You've had three-and-a-half years. What you're doing is not working."

Merritt said he would add a deputy mayor of public safety to oversee public safety agencies and said his administration would "make the criminals miserable" by putting more police in areas that are "hot" with crime.

Roads

Hogsett's campaign claimed recently that Merritt is proposing turning busy roads such as Binford Boulevard into a toll road, but that only captured half of the story. Merritt talked at the debate about his plan to create a "hot lane" on such roads, where drivers could pay a toll and avoid the crowded lanes. That would in turn create revenue to fix Indianapolis' roads, which are notoriously bad, especially after the snow and ice melt in winter.

Hogsett's idea to fund repairs is through a so-called commuter tax, where Indianapolis would capture a portion of income tax from nine surrounding counties that would go toward road projects. The Indiana Business Research Center estimates 161,500 people who work in Marion County commute from surrounding counties.

Hogsett was criticized for the way he rolled out the plan at his state of the city address, since surrounding mayors seemed to be caught off guard by the idea and weren't supportive.

Neither candidate is proposing a tax increase on Marion County residents to pay for roads projects.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.