To develop or not to develop

Waterfront parcel subject of public forum

ELK RAPIDS – What will become of a prime piece of property in downtown Elk Rapids? Two vacant buildings currently sit on just under .75 acres along the river on Dexter Street, the former home of Bech's Mustard. The Village bought the parcel for $600,000 last year. Should it remain as public property? Should it go to private development? What about a public/private partnership?

There is interest from private enterprises – one confirmed interested party is Short's Brewing, which established a production facility in Elk Rapids in 2009 and has operated a brewpub in Bellaire for nearly eight years.

Short's would like to expand in Elk Rapids, and what owner Joe Short and team propose is this: a brewery in the small brick building and a banquet hall/community space in the adjacent (large white) building, which could also include three condominium units and public restrooms.

While decisions, approvals and action will come later, the community will soon tackle the issue of what it wants this public parcel to become – redevelopment vs. open space, public vs. private, tax revenue vs. no tax revenue – at a public forum on Feb. 21.

The TCBN checked in with Elk Rapids Village Council President Dan Reszka and Matt Drake, operations manager for Short's, to talk about the issue at hand – which has stirred up a lot of talk (and some controversy) in the community.

BN: What will happen at this Feb. 21 meeting?

RESZKA: It is a public forum for the Village Council to receive input on what residents would like to see us do with the property. It is not about any particular proposal.

BN: How long has the Village owned the property?

RESZKA: It purchased the property from Private Bank (which had foreclosed on the former owners Bech's Mustard) about a year ago. It was a cash purchase with Harbor Commission funds, with the intent to replace those funds by bonding for the purchase. To pay for the bonding and any renovations or demolition, the Council approved 22 slips to go in along the river.

BN: We had heard a decision had already been made to raze the (Bech) buildings, take the land off the tax rolls and create park space. True?

RESZKA: No. What we did do is authorize staff to get quotes for how much it would cost to remove the buildings and what kind of impact that would have on bonding. (Based on a public forum last fall, the consensus was that one or both buildings should be removed and an open public place should be established.)

BN: If the Council ultimately decides to make a portion, or all, of the property private, what's next?

RESZKA: We cannot just sell to Short's, or to anyone else for that matter. It is public property that will have to go through a bid process. Short's has expressed interest, and so have others.

BN: When did Short's first approach the Village about its proposal?

DRAKE: We presented our interest in the property to the Harbor Commission in November. (The Harbor Commission has since presented a recommendation to the Council that includes tearing down the white building but leaves the fate of the brick building in flux.)

BN: Do you have an approximate price tag on this proposal?

DRAKE: It would be a multi-million dollar project: between $500,000 and $1 million in renovations to the brick building (proposed brewery) and $2-3 million in the other building, maybe more. We have no financing concerns; we've been assured by our bank that we'd be able to obtain quick financing.

BN: This proposal has piqued the interest of local residents, no?

DRAKE: We do have some grassroots support. But it's never been our position that it (development of the property) has to be us, though we do think the Village should consider something like this. We think it's a cool vision for the community.

BN: What do you think is going to happen on the 21st?

DRAKE: We don't know where it's going to go. Our concept has some flexibility – for example, developing the brick building in the absence of anything with the adjacent building or splitting the parcel with the Village. We're still willing and very flexible. BN