Greenwood plans ultimatum: Finish building or clear site

One wall of a partially built new restaurant collapsed last winter, and construction workers haven’t touched the building in more than a year.

Construction started in late 2013 on a new El Rodeo off Emerson Avenue next to Walmart. But then the chain restaurant came under investigation by the state, multiple locations were raided, and financial records were seized. The investigation put an immediate halt to construction, and nothing has happened since.

Greenwood now is getting ready to tell the owners to make a choice: Finish the building or clear the lot.

The city plans to file unsafe building orders against the property, which would require the owners to take care of the partial building, Greenwood Building Commissioner Lowell Weber said.

If nothing is done, the city could hire a contractor to demolish what was constructed of the building and then file a lien on the property to recoup the cost. The process could take six to eight months before something happens, Weber said.

El Rodeo intends to finish construction on the new location, said Indianapolis attorney Sean Hessler, who is representing the chain. The company has been getting prices from contractors and is nearing a decision on whom to hire to finish the job, he said.

Meanwhile, Weber said, the city is researching who needs to be notified, which is more complicated than usual because of the legal problems the company has had over the past year.

“Nothing official yet, but we’re still planning on getting it out of here and trying to contact them. It’s a little sticky to get involved in,” he said.

In January, prosecutors from Marion and Tippecanoe counties announced that El Rodeo had underreported about $22.7 million in sales, about 25 percent of total sales for 2010 to 2012, at 26 El Rodeo and El Jaripeo restaurants in the state.

The chain, which has another location near Smith Valley Road and State Road 135 in the Center Grove area, agreed to forfeit more than $4.5 million in cash, with $1.86 million going toward unpaid sales and food and beverage taxes. Three owners pleaded guilty to multiple charges of theft after the investigation.

Before that, a new restaurant was planned near Emerson Avenue and County Line Road in Greenwood. Construction began but then stopped.

Weber said what was built is already falling apart.

“Part of those walls collapsed last winter. They did go out last spring and cleaned up what had collapsed. They addressed that at that time,” Weber said.

Weber said he doesn’t know how the rest of the legal proceedings might affect progress on cleaning up the property. He expects the building will need to be demolished.

During an unsafe building process, the property owner is given time to correct the problem. If the owner doesn’t or refuses, the city can begin the process of condemning the building and doing the demolition itself. That includes getting approval from the city planning commission and board of works in order to hire a contractor to do the work, Weber said.

He said the partially built restaurant is a unique case, since the city is usually focusing on cleaning up old homes that have been abandoned and a health and safety hazard.