Not coming to our neighborhood, and here's why

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Have you heard the latest rumor about Applebee's coming to Greencastle?

How about the latest truth? It's not now, never has, and is unlikely EVER to consider opening a Greencastle location.

Sorry to burst your "eating good in the neighborhood" bubble, but Hawaii is the only area currently available for domestic franchising opportunities, according to the Frequently Asked Questions page on the Applebee's website.

The Applebee's rumor in Greencastle has become so negative and varied -- from "city leaders turned them down" to the equally untrue "they are looking at an outlot by Wal-Mart" -- that City Planner Shannon Norman recently took it upon herself to contact the company to hear some truth.

"Currently, they are not pursuing any more franchise opportunities," Norman told the BannerGraphic. "Applebee's typically doesn't build their own stores. Someone buys the franchise, builds the building and manages it."

In addition to building and managing it, the investor has to be willing to give up a certain amount of the profits. That is a lot of investment before seeing any benefits.

"I think the misconception is that Applebee's does the development," Norman said, "but they have to have a willing franchisee to build it."

In addition to the expense of buying the commercial lot, doing the sitework and constructing the building, there are company guidelines to follow -- all of which mean a long process.

A common misconception, Norman said, is that the city can just tell developers "no" to discourage a project. That is not true. If a project fits the zoning, the next step is for the developer to either continue with the project design, or if a building design is ready, then get permits. Site work may be needed. If the project is on a vacant lot, the project must go through the city's technical review process where city department heads and the technical review committee review the project. They make sure adequate utilities and traffic access are available.

"If a project is a permitted use and meets all the requirements, there's nothing the city can do," Norman said. "All the city has control of is the building plans and site plans, not the use."

In the case of the rumored Applebee's, it would fit in GB1, which is the most inclusive business district. It is also permitted in GB2, which is a more intensive commercial district, but also includes restaurants. There are plenty of locations available in the city zoned for general business.

"Applebee's has never called, written, e-mailed, visited -- in the three years I have been here," Norman said.

She added that she knows of people who have written to Applebee's about coming here, but they have received no response.

"I know the idea that we have turned them down in the last three years is false," Norman said of city officials. "But it is also absurd. Why would we turn down something that fits?"

When asked why a city similar to Greencastle -- Crawfordsville -- can get an Applebee's, Norman said she was told that someone already in the restaurant business was willing to franchise that location.

Addressing another city concern, Norman said she has often heard that the city has "too many" of this or that -- whether it's gas stations, banks or pizza joints.

The city has no control of the number of certain businesses. That's what competition is all about.

The new O'Reilly Auto Parts currently under construction at the corner lot of Putnam Plaza has drawn the question of "how many auto parts stores do we need?"

The local market will answer that question.

Some comments have come that the new Gas America station helped drive the BP gas station down the street out of business. Again, not true.

BP had nothing to do with sales, Norman said. It was a situation where a person purchased a building, had a loan on it, defaulted, and now it's owned by a banking corporation, and it's vacant.

"I can assure you the easiest way to close a business is to not pay a mortgage," Norman said. "That's quicker than no customers."

Gas America, an Indiana family-owned company, also came in to a vacant corner lot and cleaned it up.

"That's a win-win for the city," Norman said.

As for gas prices, competition is not so fluid that one gas station can make all the prices drop due to competition. Most of the local gas stations are managed for corporations that set the prices.

Another concern that city leaders hear about is the number of vacant buildings scattered around the city.

On retail marketing, Norman said she has to be careful.

"I will not market anyone's land for them," she said. "Our job as 'marketers' is to make Greencastle as healthy as possible, and make it look good." That is the reason for planning and zoning.

"Everyone thinks we go out and court business, but we don't have time for that," she said. "As the local economy gets healthier, more business will locate here."

While some citizens have expressed concern that retail businesses seems to increasingly seek the east side of the city, there are suitable retail sites available all over the city.

North Jackson Street, Indianapolis Road and Bloomington Street are all zoned the same.

"The potential is there to put retail where people want it," she said, "but I cannot make a property owner sell."

Or set a reasonable price for their property.

As for re-using already existing retail sites, developers have to be willing to put money into those properties, and the owners have to be willing to sell.

For instance, the former Wal-Mart location in Putnam Plaza went into foreclosure, was sold to another management company, and is kind of in limbo.

"In my opinion, it's not well marketed," Norman said.

As for the former Marsh/LoBill site -- "It's a big building. It's an expensive building, and the owner probably won't let anyone divide it up," she said.

The city has had several nibbles from potential buyers for that building, but again, the city cannot make people buy the building.

The city does field questions from potential developers and companies on a weekly and daily basis, Norman said.

Walgreen's is one of those nibblers.

"Many different development companies have come on behalf of Walgreen's," she confirmed, "but they have not found a piece of land that suits their business or activities."

One of the last thing city leaders want, Norman stressed, is for local residents to go out of town to spend their money -- whether it's on restaurants, retail or entertainment.

"There's no reason we would ever, as an administration, promote that," she said. "We try every day to promote and grow the local economy."

Whether that economy includes an Applebee's is up to Applebee's, or an investor with very deep pockets.

Now, anybody want to start a Starbucks rumor?

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  • Greencastle does lose alot of business because it hasn't grown like other small communities.Alot of folks go out of town to eat and shop to find available items you can't get in Greencastle plus there is more competition.

    -- Posted by peace2019 on Wed, Sep 5, 2007, at 5:08 PM
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