TOM HARTON Commentary: Tying up some local loose ends

Maybe you’ve already heard. Mickey Maurer’s column will return to this space in a few weeks. After two years serving as Gov. Mitch Daniels’ go-to economic development guy, Mickey should have plenty of stories to tell.

And Associate Editor Tawn Parent and I, as his trusty substitute columnists, should have a bit more time to devote to our behind-the-scenes work at IBJ.

I’m closing out my brief columnwriting career by addressing a handful of topics-some of them new, some of them too inconsequential to fill a whole column-that I didn’t get to over the last 24 months.

After the hard-fought battle to keep smoking out of Marion County restaurants, you’d think compliance would be a high priority and that reporting a violation would be as effortless as choking on secondhand smoke.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. I got a firsthand look at how hard it is to lodge a complaint after a recent Friday night visit to Agio, which on that particular evening was inexplicably welcoming both smokers and small children. So how does one report such a clear violation of the ordinance? A quick scan of several Web sites, including the Indygov site, didn’t turn up any easily accessible method of making a report. One site had a link for reporting, but it was inactive. The anti-smoking forces are great advocates for their cause, but they-and the city-are letting us down if they overlook compliance.

As for Agio, it’s far too good a restaurant to be ignoring city ordinances. Agio is clearly on the fence about whether to allow smoking and ban patrons under 18 or whether to let the kids in and risk losing smoking customers to bars. If the city’s smoking ordinance applied to bars and restaurants alike, places like Agio wouldn’t have to decide, and we’d all breathe easier.

If you’ve been in Indianapolis for any length of time, you remember the landmark American Fletcher National Bank sign atop the Fletcher Trust building at Market and Pennsylvania streets. The AFNB sign later became a Bank One sign, but it ceased being a sign of any kind and became just a black box in 1999 when the Fletcher Trust building became a Ramada hotel.

Chicago-based First Hospitality Group bought the building in 2002 and converted it to a Hilton Garden Inn, but the black box remains just a black box. So why doesn’t Hilton Garden Inn use this unsightly box to market itself and make a statement on our understated skyline?

Bob Habeeb of First Hospitality Group says a sign isn’t permitted on the black box under the existing city sign ordinance. He says First Hospitality is evaluating uses for the building’s top floor. It’s possible it will be converted to condominiums, in which case the box will be removed and skylights installed.

If you’ve wondered why that ugly box never became another landmark sign, now you know. (You were forewarned that some of the topics in this column are inconsequential.)

I saw a dog park for the first time in the Hollywood Hills. The second was in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Neither of these urban neighborhoods have houses with yards, which means the dogs of the Hollywood rich and the Village famous have nowhere to run.

Dog-lover that I am, I liked the idea of giving urban dwellers a place to exercise their pets.

Indianapolis has dog parks, of course, but it seems our dog park planners miss the point. IndyParks’ two “Bark Parks,” as they’re called, are located in Broad Ripple and near Eagle Creek Park. A third one will open this year at Paul Ruster Park on the far southeastside. One could make the argument that the Broad Ripple dog park fills a need in an urban neighborhood, but the other two are in suburbs lined with houses sporting big, fenced-in yards.

I realize it’s cheaper and easier to open a dog park in an existing park where land is plentiful. But suburban dog parks kind of defeat the purpose.

Amazingly Always New? How long can Indianapolis Downtown Inc. use that tired, old slogan? I’ll leave the marketing up to the marketing folks. I’m just asking.

Finally, I’m encouraged by the outcry over the city’s choice of a JW Marriott to fill the need for a 1,000-room hotel near the convention center. It’s not the brand people dislike, it’s the proposed hotel’s bland design. Architects aren’t the only ones calling for a more dramatic design; the public is speaking up, too. And city government wants to see a new look for the building before a project agreement is signed in the first quarter. Is Indianapolis starting to take architecture seriously? I hope so. Dynamic cities sport bold architecture, a point I’ve made more than once over the last two years. Indianapolis has come too far to accept bland, off-theshelf designs. We deserve better. In architecture-if not in marketing slogans-amazingly new never gets old.

Harton is editor of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to

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