Evansville: “You Get a Building!”… “You Get a Building!”

Now here’s an interesting idea to get vacant downtown buildings filled – give the buildings away!

Well, don’t just give the buildings away. Try something like the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce is doing: offering a restaurant challenge to anyone looking to open a restaurant in downtown Evansville and then give the building away as the award.

According to local TV station WFIE, the building in question has been empty since 2008 and the city’s Downtown Alliance came up with the idea – the first of its kind in the state, says the news report.

Dubbed the “Main Course Challenge,” the contest’s web site explains that the prize package includes over $250,000 in cash and in-kind services to develop the restaurant. The prize package includes $100,000 in start-up cash, as well as advertising services, inventory, real estate, architectural and construction services.

Interested restaurateurs simply need to apply with a biography of all partners, a prospective menu with pricing, a draft of a business plan and a reason why the pitch should be chosen over all others. The deadline to apply is Oct. 15. Once selected, finalists will provide more detailed information as well as a sampling of the food that would be served at the restaurant.

WFIE reports that the winner will have to move into the building by Sept. 1, 2015.

It’ll be an interesting experiment to see how this contest plays out and if the restaurant will have staying power once the hullabaloo dies down. But, talk about a great way to get a vacant building in your downtown filled, while introducing a new dining experience that might bring in more visitors and tourists.

This program by the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce (an Indiana Chamber member company) is the type of innovative experience that will continue to revitalize older downtown districts. Maybe there are other cities and towns around the state that would benefit from something similar?

Visit www.maincoursechallenge.com to enter the contest.

Massachusetts Still Not Getting It

Hate to pick on the state that saw many great years with our own Larry Legend, but…

The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council is taking Massachusetts to task for some questionable tax-related decisions as of late. Here’s the skinny:

According to a recent story in the Boston Herald, Governor Deval Patrick wants to do the following:

  • Extend the state’s 5 percent sales tax to alcohol sales in package stores. Bars and restaurants already pay the tax.
  • Extend the 5 percent sales tax to candy sales.
  • Extend the 5 percent sales tax to soda sales.
  • Impose $75 million in new motor vehicles taxes.
  • Increase the meal and hotel taxes by one percentage point.

What will these tax hikes actually accomplish? Consumers will face higher prices, and businesses will face higher costs and lost business. So, in the end, it will be bad news for an economy that’s already badly beaten and bruised.

For good measure, keep in mind that Massachusetts is not exactly sitting pretty in terms of its competitive position with other states.

San Francisco Restaurants: Universal Health Care Not Tasting So Great

San Francisco, America’s favorite guinea pig for public policy, is in the process of developing its own universal health care pool. Business owners aren’t too happy about the excess costs, which they are passing on to customers.

Here’s an excerpt from a January New York Times article on the matter:

Under the law, businesses with more than 20 employees are required to pay a minimum health care contribution of $1.17 to $1.76 an hour for each employee. The fees can go toward a variety of health-care options, including employer-provided insurance, health savings accounts, direct payment of medical bills, or payment in a new city program called Healthy San Francisco.

Some employers, however, say the plan places an undue burden on smaller businesses, many of which are already paying for employee benefits. “It’s expensive, it’s unsustainable and there’s better ways to do it,” said Daniel Scherotter, the incoming president of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which filed the suit challenging the law.

Mr. Scherotter, who owns an Italian restaurant in the city, estimates that he already spends $60,000 a year on health insurance, but that the new plan could cost him twice that.

"Everybody seems to know that restaurants are really risky business, but somehow, they’re saying, ‘Oh, they’re rolling in it, they can pay for it,’ ” he said.