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School May Seize Printer's Property Via Eminent Domain

September 7, 2012
MUNCIE, IN—Ball State University (BSU) has encountered a road block in its quest to construct a $25 million complex that would contain a hotel, conference center, restaurants and housing for hospitality and food management students: Hiatt Printing, which refuses to budge. Now, the school has authorized its eminent domain power to seize the small printer's property, which promises to open the door to a legal battle.

The Star Press reported that BSU believes it has spent more than a year engaged in "good faith" negotiations with owner Chris Hiatt, who the paper characterizes as an "outspoken tax protester and government watchdog." The school's board of trustees voted to authorize the university to file a court action against Hiatt, noting that it has been patient, fair and reasonable in its efforts to negotiate with the shop owner.

While the authorization to condemn the building for public use has been filed, the dispute will go to mediation next month, the Star reported. If that negotiation isn't fruitful, the university will try to convince a court that seizing the property through eminent domain will benefit the public.

The university reportedly offered Hiatt $400,000 for the building, which has second-floor apartments in addition to the shop space—which it alleges is $40,000 more than fair market value based on third-party appraisals.

The school told the newspaper it has offered to pay Hiatt the costs to secure his own appraisal. Ball State has offered financial assistance with moving expenses, lease-hold improvements and multi-year rental subsidies, among other incentives, the Star said. That includes helping Hiatt move into the hotel upon completion, slated for late 2014.

Hiatt issued a statement to the newspaper, saying that eminent domain should be "reserved for the most serious of circumstances for which there are no reasonable alternatives and is absolutely necessary for the overall general public welfare or good." He feels the school will be unable to meet the "public use threshold" with the project.

"(A)bsolutely nothing has been offered to Hiatt Printing that doesn't render it worthless and assure its ultimate demise," Hiatt wrote, adding that he has engaged legal counsel.

The number of hospitality and food management majors at BSU has grown exponentially in recent years, and the school is looking to join other major universities in offering a "living-learning laboratory."



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