Huge bar tab that wasn’t
It began with a jab at what appeared to be a steep expenditure by the city of Grand Junction at a local eatery.
What followed was a series of questioning and critical phone calls, a brief decline in business and a big headache for Naggy McGee’s co-owner Eric Wilmot.
And it was all because of an anonymous person’s assumption that turned out to be false.
On July 31, The Daily Sentinel published the city’s regular quarterly report of expenditures. One of the expenses was a charge of $12,553 at Naggy McGee’s, 359 Colorado Ave. Upon seeing the line item, a reader commented in an Aug. 7 “You Said It” column: “That is a great deal of corned beef and cabbage.”
Although the dollar amount is listed as a city expense, the funds were paid to the restaurant as a part of the Downtown Development Authority’s program to help update downtown building facades.
The money is a matching grant with funds collected through property taxes paid by downtown businesses within DDA boundaries.
“The city acts like a bank. They’re the keepers of the money,” said Kathy Dirks, marketing director for the DDA. “When we need the money, they write a check.”
The city hadn’t accumulated a large tab at the pub. But the firestorm had already erupted.
Within the first two days of the publication of the comment, Wilmot said he and the restaurant’s hostess fielded six phone calls from citizens wondering how the money had been spent. One person wanted to know if city employees were dining on the taxpayers’ dime.
In the week following the comment’s appearance in the newspaper, Wilmot estimated sales dropped 10 to 12 percent compared to a normal week of lunch and dinner customers.
“You create an atmosphere in this business. That’s as important as serving food and drinks. It was hard to get rid of that (negative) vibe,” he said.
Wilmot said he and co-owner Vanessa Funches applied for the grant to help pay for improvements they wanted to make to the exterior of the pub to go along with the interior overhaul performed on the 18-month-old business.
He said the exterior work featured new awnings and signage, brick repair and replacement of wood trim that had rotted. The pub is located inside the St. Regis Hotel, which opened as the Grand Junction Hotel and Restaurant in 1895.
“Without that grant, I don’t know that we would have gotten off to the good start we did,” Wilmot said.
Since 2009, the Facade Grant Program has reinvested $135,826 in awards for 26 downtown businesses. Businesses can use the grants for the front or back entrances to their businesses.
Matching grants of up to $10,000 per parcel are offered to each business that applies for the program. Naggy McGee’s site is on two parcels, Dirks said.
“It’s really helped a lot of businesses in the downtown area,” she said. “We match what they are able to pay so they get such great value.”
A couple of other expenses on the city’s quarterly expenditure report seemed noteworthy:
Grand Junction Police Department Sgt. Tony Clayton was paid $36,211 and Sgt. Stan Ancell was paid $38,788. At a yearly rate, that would put their salaries in the $140,000 to $150,000 range. Police Chief John Camper earned $120,000 last year. The sergeants were reimbursed for overtime that was owed to them from a previous pay period, according to city spokeswoman Sam Rainguet.
The city paid $35,000 to American Furniture Warehouse. The company is building a new 150,000-square-foot warehouse off U.S. Highway 6&50 near Gold’s Gym. The money is payment for a new road the company built for the city, Rainguet said.
The report lists an expenditure of $55,083 back to the city. That charge represents utility payments from the city’s departments such as fire departments, parks and the police station to pay for water, sewer and trash services.