Thanks for all the support and well wishes on our Pipe to Nowhere fiasco. Your kind words really mean a lot. The project is almost done and City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) has signed off on the work. We can now move forward with other matters. This project was wasteful and useless, but because of an earlier commitment, it had to be done.
With the digging and plumbing behind us now, the underlying issue is how CBU treats business customers in the city. Pipe to Nowhere was never really about a pipe, and this issue is certainly not unique to Cardinal Spirits. CBU treats small businesses with systemic contempt — the small-biz-friendly climate that the city touts begins to unravel as you hear stories like ours, and there are many of them. Why should you, a Bloomington resident, care about CBU issues like Pipe to Nowhere, plus grease traps, permits and head-scratching policy?
This bottom line is that the CBU’s bureaucracy prevents existing businesses from expanding and deters new small businesses from opening in our city, and in some cases, causes businesses to close.
We saw an overflow of support yesterday — fellow small business owners and friends stopped by the distillery to see the action, and many other shared their frustration, and in some cases, their own CBU issues, on our social media. And many of you signed our petition right here, with the goal of opening a discussion with city officials.
We also heard privately from small business owners who are supportive but do not want to go public with their own frustrations with the CBU because they fear the ramifications of CBU. Yikes!
Yesterday, two city officials visited the distillery after the construction was underway — this was after several unreturned phone calls and emails to a variety of city officials last week asking for clarity and conversation.
The first to stop by was Alex Crowley, the Director of Economic & Sustainable Development at City of Bloomington. We truly appreciated his visit. He’s a thoughtful official who is trying to make things better. He did caution us on making our story too public and perhaps turning the climate at CBU toxic against us. It’s a good thought and one we’ve struggled with. Telling people about our problems is really against our nature, as is saying something in public that would hurt the image of Bloomington. That said, we really don’t see any other option. Last week we called/emailed a number of government employees and no one responded. Over the years, we’ve regularly voiced our concerns to CBU and we don’t see anyone making changes.
So, here we are, talking directly to you.
Our second visitor from the city was Vic Kelson Director, City of Bloomington Utilities. This was big! We had called Vic last week, but didn’t get a response. Unfortunately, this meeting didn’t go well.
With Vic, we outlined frustrations we’ve had with CBU over the years, but Vic was unwavering. It was clear that he didn’t come to the distillery to solve any problems, he wasn’t offering a solution, he didn’t apologize for the way we’ve been treated, or explain why no one from engineering or his office called us back. He just came to visit after all the work had been done, to check a box.
In fact, this visit felt so purposeless that it ended with us asking Vic to leave our distillery.
So, what’s next?
On our part: We’re going to keep talking. Keep sharing. Keep vigilant. Keep demanding that processes and communications at CBU improve for small businesses in Bloomington.
Finally, we’d like Mayor John Hamilton to host a meeting with CBU, the City Council, and small business owners to have a reasonable discussion.
City officials: can we make this happen?
Hi friends and supporters of Cardinal Spirits and/or Bloomington, Indiana. We've decided to share with you a story about how difficult it is to work with the City of Bloomington Utilities department.
The City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) is forcing us to perform a pointless street cut and install a pipe to nowhere (literally) — a wasteful, useless and expensive project.
As you might know, we are renovating our kitchen space to roll out a larger menu for our guests. To get our permits, CBU is forcing us to resolve an issue dating back 3 years, when we purchased our building. At that time, we realized that two houses behind Cardinal had sewer lines connected to our sewer line.
We reached an agreement with the CBU to move the sewer lines off our property and dig out the street so the city could install two taps - one for each house to connect to the sewer. So, about 2.5 years ago, we dug up the street and the city installed only ONE tap. Now, the exact reasoning behind why only one tap was installed remains a mystery, but it's clear there was fault on both sides.
Now, we are faced with delaying our project to either fight the issue or pay a substantial amount to do another street cut and have the CBU tap the line. It's been my experience that you never win when arguing with CBU. Oh, and here's the good news: The tap goes nowhere. There is no pipe from the home to the street and likely never will. They have no reason to. This pipe goes nowhere. To put this in perspective, we need to sell over 800 bottles of spirits to pay for this tap.
I can’t emphasize this point enough — the work that we are doing on Monday is wasteful and useless. We are paying to cut and dig up the street so that CBU can install a tap. Then, we will install a pipe that will be closed and buried a few feet from the street. It will likely remain that way for decades.
Here's what we tried to do to resolve this situation:
We talked to CBU Pre-Waste Water Treatment Coordinator Tamara Roberts on March 14, 2017, to see if there were any pending issues. None were mentioned so we progressed with planning.
We contacted the City Economic Development and Sustainability office about a potential grant program for grease interceptors, a related issue that would help off-set some of the costs for the entire project, but we were told it wasn’t an option.
In the last few days, I alerted, CBU and other Bloomington City officials that I would be speaking out about this ridiculous situation. Those of you who know me well know that this is not my style, but it's time to pull back the curtain on this confusing activity by the City of Bloomington Utilities.
Here are some other things that we could have done with that money:
Develop a new product. For this amount of money we could have covered the R&D for ingredients, plus design fees and label printing for a new spirit. One less new spirit this year.
Entered four spirits competitions. For this amount of money we could have covered the shipping costs and entry fees for four spirits judgings. Our products usually win awards at them, so these are great for growing our business. We won’t be able to do as many this year.
Advertise our business. We love working with local radio, newspaper, and magazine companies and making creative content. This money could have gone to those local businesses.
Make 8 barrels of bourbon. We have about 15 barrels right now. The last one sold out in 2.5 hours. It would be great to make more. This money could have gone to making something that our community actually wants.
Buy a walk-in fridge. We’re in the middle of building a restaurant, and this money could be used to buy much needed refrigerated storage space.
We hope that by sharing this story, it helps to shine a light on the problems that small businesses face when trying to grow in Bloomington. We just want to have a successful business, provide meaningful work to our staff, and contribute to our wonderful community. The CBU seems to have opposite goals.
We are not sure what can be done to change this, but hope that by collecting signatures in the petition on this page, we can show our city leadership that this problem needs to be addressed.