JEFFERSONVILLE — Less than 24 hours after removing the name of Papa John’s founder from the Nachand Fieldhouse, Mayor Mike Moore has given back the $400,000 that John Schnatter donated for renovations to the gym.
Moore called for Schnatter’s name to be removed around 4 p.m. Wednesday, a few hours after news broke of Schnatter using the N-word on a private conference call amongst Papa John’s executives and a marketing agency named Laundry Service.
In the May call, first reported by Forbes, Schnatter downplayed the significance of comments he had previously made about kneeling NFL players by saying “Colonel Sanders called blacks n——-s” without facing public backlash.
"Schnatter also reflected on his early life in Indiana, where, he said, people used to drag African-Americans from trucks until they died,” the Forbes story said.
Moore told the News and Tribune on Wednesday that Schnatter’s comments had him “fuming,” but he originally expressed hope that Schnatter might let the city keep the money to help the kids who use the Nachand Fieldhouse as a community gym and — in the future — as the gym for the city’s new downtown elementary school.
By Thursday, though, Moore’s tone had shifted.
“Just decided I didn’t want it,” he told media assembled outside the fieldhouse. “And there are some things that are more important than money. This building is one of the most historical monuments the City of Jeffersonville has. I don’t want that money tied to it.”
Schnatter responded to Moore's actions in a written statement: "I’m happy to give back to my hometown of Jeffersonville because I'm proud of my roots," he said. "I'm especially proud of the Nachand Fieldhouse project because of how far it's come. This gym is special to me because it is close to my dad’s old office and it serves kids in the community. However, I respect Mayor Moore and his decision."
Moore said that he mailed back a $400,000 check to Schnatter without the entrepreneur asking for it.
Schnatter’s name was also removed from the Jeffersonville Wall of Champions near the Big Four Bridge on Thursday morning.
Last year, Schnatter pledged to donate $800,000 of $1.8 million needed for renovations of Nachand Fieldhouse in exchange for naming rights. He planned to give the city the rest of the money as contracts were executed.
The deal was solidified in a legal contract between Schnatter and the Jeffersonville Parks Authority. The document also gave Schnatter the right to keep a board member on the parks authority until two years after the completion of the fieldhouse, the exclusive right to sell Papa John’s pizza at parks authority locations, and use of the fieldhouse by Papa John’s without charge one day a year, among other things.
Moore said yesterday that when he informed a Papa John’s representative that he would be removing Schnatter’s name, he was told there might be possible legal issues, although Schnatter did not address that in his statement provided to the News and Tribune. The contract allows one entity to bring a lawsuit against the other if they breach the contract. Despite this warning, Moore asked a city employee to take down Schnatter’s name.
“This gymnasium is not only a significant historical part of the city of Jeff, it's about to become the gymnasium for our new downtown elementary school," Moore said yesterday. "I can't have children who are walking into this elementary school to get an education to have this hanging over their heads. I do not want that name with these comments, you know, crossing any little child's mind that's walking into school every day."
Several people commented on News and Tribune social media posts asking for Moore to give the money back, and even the mayor’s 23-year-old daughter told him yesterday to do so. Moore cited that conversation as another reason why he decided to return Schnatter’s money.
Now, the Nachand Fieldhouse faces a funding gap, but Moore said that he would ask the Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission to provide the needed money. Moore is a member of the commission.
“This will put a little squeeze on us, but $800,000 is something we do have the funds for,” he said.
Jeffersonville Parks Authority President Bill Burns said he hasn’t been given a timeline for when the city will transfer the money, but that ongoing construction will continue on phase one of the Nachand Fieldhouse project, which includes a bathroom remodel, window replacement and brick restoration. Phase two of the project isn’t expected to start until the end of the year.
Burns said it was important that the project continue to move forward. He called the Nachand Fieldhouse an “iconic” building that has served the community for generations.
Moore doesn’t think that the rest of the contract between Schnatter and the city is valid since the name was removed, but he hasn’t consulted with Jeffersonville’s attorney, Les Merkley, yet. The News and Tribune was also unable to contact Merkley on Thursday.
When asked about the possibility of a lawsuit, Moore said that he wouldn’t base any decision on the likelihood of being sued.
I think John would be foolish to sue over this," Moore said. "I think he’s already living a PR nightmare. But you know what it just came down to: what do we want that building to be remembered for? And I did not want John Schnatter’s name attached to...that building.”
The fieldhouse, the second-largest in the state when built, used to be the site of Jeffersonville High School basketball games. Today, the facility hosts youth and adult programs and is rented for events.