A2SO4 architectural firm reopens after temporary closure

A2SO4 Architecture LLC, one of the largest architectural firms in Indianapolis, is operating again after the state temporarily shut it down earlier this month because it owed more than $43,300 in delinquent taxes.

The firm closed its Union Station offices Feb. 8 after the Indiana Department of Revenue revoked the firm’s retail merchant certificate, which authorizes companies to withhold sales taxes and employee payroll taxes.

Sanford Garner, A2SO4’s managing partner, said he met with state officials Tuesday. He said the issue is now considered closed after the firm addressed the concerns to the department's satisfaction. Garner declined to be more specific about the discussions on the advice of his attorney.

But what upsets Garner, 43, is that he says the state never should have closed his business because it’s not a retail establishment and doesn’t collect sales taxes. A Feb. 15 letter from the state to Garner’s attorney supports that contention.

“After further consideration within the Department of Revenue, the Department has determined that posting the recent notice … was premature,” the letter says.

The letter further says the department is satisfied with the firm’s commitment to address the unpaid employee withholding taxes and will take no further action pending “satisfactory resolution” of the debt by Feb. 25.

Department of Revenue spokesman Bob Dittmer said the agency is not permitted to discuss financial specifics of an individual taxpayer.
“A taxpayer is perfectly in their right to share information with you,” he said, “but we can’t do the same.”

A2SO4 was founded in 2001 by architects Sanford Garner and Vop Osili, who are among relatively few black architects in Indiana. Osili, an Indianapolis city-county councilor, left A2SO4 in 2010 to run for secretary of state and then sold his interest in 2011.

With 2011 billings of $3.4 million, A2SO4 ranked as the city’s 11th largest architectural firm in IBJ’s Book of Lists.

Garner declined to provide revenue for 2012 but said it was the firm’s worst year. He attributed the slump to a prolonged slowdown in the economy, coupled with an increase in outstanding client bills.

One client stiffed the firm on a $189,000 bill for a mixed-used project that ultimately “fell apart,” while several others each owe A2SO2 between $60,000 and $80,000, Garner said.

That’s left A2SO4 unable to pay some of its project partners, including Indianapolis-based Heapy Engineering Indiana LLC.

Heapy filed suit in December against A2SO4 in Marion Superior Court, claiming the firm owes it $89,796 in unpaid invoices, in addition to $20,233 in interest and attorney fees.

Among the firms’ design work is a parking garage for the new Wishard Hospital, a series of five-story buildings to surround Barton Tower and several projects at Indianapolis International Airport.

Garner also said he may have spent too much time on the company’s approaching move and not enough on the core business.

A2SO4 is preparing within the next few weeks to move its headquarters to a former Catholic church at the southwest corner of College Avenue and North Street, near the Lockerbie neighborhood. It planned to spend about $1 million rehabbing the 11,000-square-foot building, which is larger than the 9,000 square feet the firm now occupies.

Despite the firm’s recent problems, Garner said he's confident it will recover.

“I view this as, although it’s been unfortunate, that it’s going to make the company stronger,” he said.

Garner was honored in 2011 by the American Institute of Architects as one of 11 national recipients of the 2011 AIA Young Architects Award.

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