GREENFIELD — As the new Gander Mountain retail store rises in the background, the ashes of the former El Rodeo Mexican Restaurant along North State Street have turned to rubble with little tangible evidence of the establishment’s rebirth since the company announced plans to rebuild last spring.
The popular Greenfield eatery was destroyed by a fire in November 2012. In April 2013, Jose Melendez, a principal with El Rodeo Mexican Restaurant Inc., which operates 18 stores in the Indianapolis area, said he intended to bring the restaurant back – along with a 15,400-square-foot retail plaza on the three-acre site.
However, after breaking ground last fall, work abruptly halted, leaving only heaps of broken concrete foundation and footers, mangled rebar and mounds of fragmented asphalt.
On March 4, the city zoning enforcement department sent El Rodeo a letter giving the company 14 days to renew its expired demolition permit and clean the site up.
Within a few days of that letter, the company responded and said it would get back to work on a project that was previously projected to have been completed by the first of the year.
“They were very apologetic about having to stop mid-stream and said they hope to have it cleaned up soon,” said Greenfield planning director Joanie Fitzwater.
The city is working with the new contractor to renew the demolition permit and get the site presentable, Fitzwater said.
The company has about 14 months remaining to complete its subdivision agreement with the city that will show precisely what will go where at the site at 2203 N. State St.
El Rodeo received approval for its subdivision plat from the city last May, and that approval is good for two years, Fitzwater said.
Neither the company, nor its previous or current contractors have responded to telephone inquiries about the status of the project; however, there has been plenty of legal and law enforcement activity surrounding the company and several other central Indiana Mexican restaurant chains that could have impacted the rebuilding.
In November, police executed search warrants throughout the state at several homes and El Rodeo locations, along with El Jaripeo restaurants in several cities, including New Palestine.
Published reports indicate more than $5 million in cash, vehicles and homes were seized during the investigation.
In February, civil forfeiture actions were filed in Marion and Tippecanoe counties against El Rodeo and other business entities, alleging they were involved in money laundering.
No criminal charges have been filed in the matter, and authorities have said little about the investigation since November; however, the complaints seek to recover millions in currency and assets for the state.
According to the complaint filed in Tippecanoe County, the state is seeking to recover $967,840.81 from the Greenfield El Rodeo in a PNC bank account.
Fitzwater said though the company’s recent reappearance and reassurances are a positive sign, she’s not quite prepared to make any predictions for the future.
“We’ll believe it when we see it,” she said.