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Bar owner alleges racism in lease dispute

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The owner of a nightclub in the heart of Broad Ripple believes his landlords nearly doubled his rent for just one reason: to force him and his mostly African-American clientele from the building.

Charging racial discrimination, Anies Alfayyad last year sued brothers Marc R. Fortney and Eric M. Fortney, who own the building at Broad Ripple and Guilford avenues that houses Alfayyad’s Bleecker Street bar.
 

rop-bleeckerstreet-072814-15col.jpgAnies Alfayyad has operated Bleecker Street on this spot since 1999. (IBJ photo/Scott Olson)

Alfayyad won a major victory July 14 when a federal judge ruled that his case could move forward in part despite attempts by the Fortneys—who deny the allegations—to get it dismissed. A trial is set for Oct. 14 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

Judge William T. Lawrence’s decision comes at a time Broad Ripple is wrestling with image issues tied to increasing violence. City officials July 10 took the unusual step of closing a two-block portion of Broad Ripple Avenue to motor vehicles on Friday and Saturday nights for the rest of the summer to reduce violence in the business and entertainment district.

Alfayyad has occupied his space near the strip since 1999. The Fortneys bought the building in 2008 and soon after opened their Brothers bar next to Bleecker Street.

It didn’t take long for Alfayyad’s relationship with the new landlords to sour, his suit claims.

Alfayyad asserts in his complaint that the Fortneys regularly used the terms “ghetto” and “those types of people” to identify Bleecker Street customers and further told him that he needed “to get rid of these people.”

Though the Fortneys never used the terms “black” or “African-American,” Alfayyad believed that’s whom they were referring to, according to his suit.

He also claims the Fortneys play country music at their bar while Bleecker Street customers are on the patio to send a “hostile message” to them.

The Fortneys declined to comment on the pending case. But Michael Rabinowitch, a lawyer at Wooden & McLaughlin LLP who is representing them, disputed Alfayyad’s claims.

“It’s clear from the defendants’ filings that they strongly deny the tenant’s allegations of wrongdoing and deny that they did anything that’s discriminatory,” Rabinowitch told IBJ.

Alfayyad could not be reached for comment, and his attorney, Hamid Kashani, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment on the suit.
bleecker-factbox.gif Alfayyad’s disagreement over his rent started when his lease came up for renewal in July 2009, about a year after the Fortneys purchased Broad Ripple Square, the building that houses Brothers and Bleecker Street.

Alfayyad had been paying $15.45 per square foot, but the Fortneys countered with $27.50, nearly double Alfayyad’s rate, claiming that’s what the Broad Ripple market supported.

The Fortneys agreed to reduce the rate to $25 per square foot, according to the complaint, but only if Alfayyad agreed to prohibit dancing, hip hop music, disc jockeys, live entertainment and exotic dancers.

Alfayyad refused but ultimately agreed to the new rate.

In the meantime, Alfayyad attempted to sell his business to three different prospects, including a team that owns numerous restaurants in the Broad Ripple area.

The team, Bill Ficca and Jamie Browning, own interests in such establishments as 317 Burger, Northside Social and Usual Suspects, next to Bleecker Street on Guilford Avenue. Ficca and Browning declined to pursue Bleecker Street after failing to negotiate a better lease rate, according to the suit.

Reached by phone, Ficca lauded the location of Bleecker Street but not the rent.

“It continues to be unrealistically high; that’s the reason we walked away,” he said. “At the time when we looked at it, the market was more in the $15 range. Given where things are right now, people are even struggling to pay that.”

In his decision, the judge said Alfayyad presented enough facts to allow part of his complaint to move forward.

“The defendants maintain that the statements [they made] refer to the behavior of Bleecker Street’s clientele, rather than their race,” the judge wrote. “However, a reasonable jury also could infer—depending on what testimony it finds more credible—that the defendants’ displeasure with Bleecker Street was based on the race of its customers.”

The judge rejected Alfayyad’s other claims of discrimination against the Fortneys.

No evidence suggests the brothers eliminated parking spaces meant for Bleecker Street or that they denied customer access to his bar, the judge said. In addition, the Fortneys did not discriminate against Alfayyad when he attempted to sell his business and transfer the lease.

While Ficca and Browning rejected the rent, another prospect lacked the financial wherewithal to satisfy the Fortneys, and the third prospect wanted the space for a bar that might compete too closely with Brothers.•

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  • Not a race issue
    Its a THUG issue. Bleecker Street and NYX are thug bars. They attract thugs of all races. Places that attract thugs need to be kicked out of Broad Ripple. Ain't nobody got time for that!
  • Believe it or not, this is a class issue
    The element that goes to Bleeker Street doesn't represent the average black person. Further, the same is true for the element that is responsible for the violence in Broad Ripple. The average black person is like any other person - concerned about his/her safety, wants to have a fun time in a positive environment, and wants to be treated with respect and dignity. The element that IS causing the issues is representative of low class blacks. African-Americans who are low on the socio-economic ladder who have limited resources and education, and perhaps, less to lose. If you don't want to patronize these types of Americans (irrespective of race), you do so via dress code screening - ex. no white tees, no gym shoes, no hoodies, no hats/head coverings, and in making sure the advertising appeals to your target demographic.
  • Well said Mason
    Mason was spot on. I often wonder how blacks that are "good citizens" feel when an area goes to ruin by the "thug crowd" that takes over. I have some dear friends that are black, I know they too are embarrassed and ashamed by what happens to an area that was once nice and now a crime ridden disgrace. There needs to be an uprising against this type of behavior(whether black or white)and treatment to our communities
  • Bad Business Decisions
    First, I'm curious, what did the brothers buy the building for in 2008, and why the costs, upkeep, taxes, etc were not considered as reasons for the rent hike. I'm sure they paid a good amount for it, and rents in 1999 were probably a lot lower / different than today's market. Also what is the size of Bleecker's space? Secondly, if the owner of Bleecker wasn't happy w/ the rent increase, why did he agree to it. Why didn't he look to move to a location where he could re-open under the economics he would have prefered. No one forced his hand to sign the $25psf rents. Businesses open/close/relocate all the time based on this factor (as well as size, traffic, parkng, restrictions, etc). If Bleecker St was a operation generating high volume sales and profit than the rent wouldn't be a deciding factor in purchasing that business. This, in my opinion just shows cause that the owners had an agenda to profit off trying to sell or assign the lease/location (moreso than the business) but when nobody wanted to buy they then used the discrimination claim as a way to counteract their bad business decision in the first place. Ultimately this will likely cause the owners of the building to spend more in legal fee's to defend their actions moreso than it would have cost if they just moved ahead with a new tenant if they weren't happy with the original. This was bad timing, planning, and only people going to profit off this will be attorneys.
  • speak and be sued
    So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."
  • I'm Black and I'm Ashamed
    Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.
  • Kudos, Ben!
    Your post was spot on. Not vicious, not racist, not hateful. Just accurate and unbiased. We need to hear more from you.
  • Race Card
    Enough with the race card. Quite often the patrons at this establishment are un-ruly and dangerous. Go look for yourself - try walking down the sidewalk in front of Bleeker later in the evening. It brings an awful element to Broad Ripple. Coincidentally, that element is black. If it were white, the same things would be being said, just without the over played race card. Bleeker and NYX need to move to an area where they can serve their demographic withing miking them commute to an area that was once magical. They both profit from the rest of the communities discomfort. I applaud the efforts of Brothers.
    • How does he know...
      ...that the majority of his patrons are African-Americans? Could he possibly mean that the majority of his patrons are black? I haven't heard about the 'African-American Expo' being held in Indy each year but I could be wrong.

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