BSU trustees exercise eminent domain to take Hiatt Printing for new hotel, convention center

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, IN - Dave Hiatt had nothing to say as the Ball State University board of trustees exercised eminent domain to take his beloved Hiatt Printing for a new $25 million hotel and conference center at University and McKinley avenues.

 Hiatt, whose trust owns the property, and son Chris, who manages the business, sat and watched as Randy Howard, BSU vice president of business affairs, gave the trustees all the evidence and information they needed besides advice from DeFur Voran lawyer James Williams to take the property by going to court, if necessary, if mediation does not resolve the property dispute.

 Howard, as BSU President Jo Ann Gora watched, told the trustees the university had been generous during the past year offering money, relocation, and even space in the new hotel for the printing business. The value of that deal has not been disclosed, but it is easily over $500,000 and possible close to $1 million, according to appraisals and other internal documents.

 Hiatt was filming the proceeding with his sidekick Leon Dixon, a retired businessman, and  outspoken letter writer, Facebook poster and even former Muncie School Board member. Dixon, who lives in Indianapolis, said he was just visiting the trustees, and recently attended a meeting of the Indiana University trustees.  He said a premiere hotel operator recently talked to BSU about building a facility and the university declined. That operator then went to Cornell University and built a hotel and convention center there.

 Howard said the hotel and conference center would be owned by BSU but the university would hire a hotel management company to run the facility and help teach students about the hospitality and food management industry.

 BSU calls the venture a "living-;learning" program were students working at the hotel actually would live in student rooms in the building. And Howard said marketing studies easily show Muncie could use a full service or select service hotel since it has none now.

 And the property will easily capitalize itself to pay a proposed $29 million bond to finance it and repaid by donations and other revenue. 

 The hotel and conference center even has the support of Mayor Dennis Tyler and James Mansfield, director of the Muncie Visitors Bureau, who wrote letters about what good a full service hotel will do for the community and how there is a need for full and select service hospitality.

 What's left of Muncie's hotel industry amounts to overnight hotels with big names and free breakfast like Holiday Express, Hampton Inn, and Marriott while the downtown jewel ,the historic Roberts Hotel, remains empty. 

 BSU trustee Frank Hancock felt Hiatt's pain as a printer who worked out of an alley in downtown Indianapolis, and then moved because of construction with Pan Am Plaza and got a storefront that boomed his business. Of course, Hancock is the power and manager of Sports Graphics that downs business with the Indianapolis Colts, Indiana Pacers and even BSU sports.

 Hollis Hughes Jr., former United Way director in South Bend, said the university spent more than a year trying to settle the dispute and agreed with the administration had to move forward to get the project underway and finished by 2014. Howard pointed to a boom in student enrolled in hospitality and food management studies, adding the site was right next to a parking garage, the student center and the University Village, which he predicted would see more development from the hotel.

 Chris Hiatt said BSU had not been forthright in its dealings with his family and promised to get a court order that would decide how university's could use eminent domain. He had tried to get his political ally, Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, to change the law to favor his property dispute, but the Republican Senate would not even hear the bill after objections from Ball State and other universities.

 So it will business as usual for Hiatt Printing at Ball State until a mediator or judge decide on how to settle the dispute. BSU used eminent domain once before to take property owned by the late Dave and Jackie Werner and also acquired Dave Meeks home as they expanded into the nearby Riverside neighborhood.

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