Judge Rules Ball State May Seize Print Shop for Hotel, Dorm Project

Published April 30, 2013

An Indiana judge has ruled Ball State University can proceed to use eminent domain against a print shop in Muncie, Ind. Hiatt Printing, a family-owned business of 40 years, can be seized in order to build a $25.9 million hotel, dorm, and conference center on the BSU campus, the judge ruled.

The planned 100,000 square foot McKinley Commons would house 51 students and act as a hotel with 112 guest rooms, complete with “front desk, lobby area, and food service.” Ball State argues this would act as a “hands-on facility” to benefit hospitality majors. To justify seizing a thriving print shop, Ball State claims it’s necessary to use eminent domain for this project because the university doesn’t have that many hotel rooms.

Circuit Court 5 Judge Thomas Cannon, Jr. agreed. Even though this complex would act as a hotel and would lease space to commercial tenants, Ball State’s authorization of eminent domain was ruled an acceptable public use.

Owners Promise Appeal

The Hiatts announced they intend to appeal the decision “for the sake of our 40 years of business presence and investment in this community” and to “fight this battle for private property rights.”

Back in 2006, Indiana’s legislature tightened restrictions on eminent domain by redefining “public use” so that “the term does not include the public benefit of economic development, including an increase in a tax base, tax revenues, employment, or general economic health.”

Ball State Pressure Kills Bills

But state universities in Indiana have the power to condemn and seize private property. Earlier this year, State Sen. Doug Eckerty (R-Yorktown) sponsored a bill that would have banned public universities from using eminent domain, but it stalled in committee. Last year Eckerty introduced a bill mandating state universities compensate business owners for the loss of estimated future earnings, but progress on that bill halted after pressure from Ball State.

Ball State’s broad use of eminent domain isn’t an isolated incident. The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority in Virginia condemned 170 private properties to resell them to Old Dominion University. And in 2010, New York’s highest court allowed Columbia University to seize privately owned businesses for a multibillion-dollar expansion.