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DDA may sell downtown offices

Micro-brewer interested in corner location

February 23, 2011 - By Gabriel Ouzounian

Review staff writer

DDA Director Suzanne Perreault stands inside one of 51 N. Broadway’s suites, which currently contains a “Dragon on the Lake” float. Photo by Gabriel Ouzounian (click for larger version)
Lake Orion beer tasters may have something new to try.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) may be moving out of their current offices to make way for a new business.

At the Feb. 14 Lake Orion Village Council Meeting, DDA Executive Director Suzanne Perreault detailed the intended plans to lease the building out to Don Gindhart, who is interested in opening a micro brewery at the 51 N. Broadway location.

"We're considering a lease with an option to buy, and hope to offer a low enough price point so that (Gindhart) can pay with cash up front," said Perreault. "We decided to lease the building because right now it's not worth very much because property values are down, and we also want to have some control over this project so we can guarantee someone won't manufacture ping pong balls in this building.

"We want a restaurant, or something that will generate foot traffic in the north side of town."

Perreault said the new business would act as a "north-head anchor" to draw people to the north side of downtown, which currently is "under-utilized." She also said the new business would create between 15 and 20 jobs.

Most of the council responded to this news positively, with Council Member Michael Toth motioning to give the council's support to the sale of the building. Council Member John Ranville also supported the idea, and said he heard good things from a micro-brewery owner based in Rochester.

"When (this man) started his micro-brewery, there were only a handful of micro-breweries in Michigan, but now there's over 70 or 80," said Ranville. "I think this sounds like a good idea."

However, the council's approval was not unanimous. Council Member Douglas Dendel worried about selling the building at a loss.

"You said (the building was purchased at) a value of around $499,000, and you're saying property value is down, so are we looking at a loss?" asked Dendel.

To this point, local business owner and DDA boardmember Tom Traurig explained that selling at a loss was an inevitability.

"If we're only concerned about getting out value back from four to five years ago, it's a moot point," said Traurig. "Real estate has taken a beating whether you own a home or a business, and we're just trying to focus on getting businesses into the downtown.

"If we take a loss, so be it, because I would gladly take a loss if it meant getting viable business interests into the downtown."

Dendel argued that taking a loss on the building should hold more precedence because taxpayer money had been used to purchase the parcel the building stands on. He also expressed concern over parking problems that may arise from the loss of the spaces in front of 51 N. Broadway, which, if sold to Gindhart, would be replaced with an outdoor patio area.

Council member David Churchill agreed with Dendel, saying "if this was a personal residence, it would not be a moot point."

"No one is going to sell their home really cheap just so someone can live there," said Churchill. "These are taxpayer dollars, and while I'm all for getting businesses in here, I think we may be jumping the gun on this thing."

Yet a counterpoint came from Toth, who in relation to the potential traffic problem said that having an issue in terms of parking space may not be a bad thing.

"As far as parking goes, let's hope we have a traffic problem down there," said Toth. "That means that we have a viable business generating interest in downtown, and when the problem happens, then we can look at it."

Toth also said the leasing of the building was an investment, and one that might yield more money over time than all at once.

Yet despite these arguments, it appears the DDA will go ahead with the sale as planned, and buyer Gindhart couldn't be happier. He had originally looked into other towns when he decided he wanted to open a brewery, but after a suggestion from a co-worker, he decided to investigate Lake Orion as a possible location.

"I'm from Troy, and originally I was looking at the Woodward corridor, but one of the guys I brewed with, who had tried some years earlier to open a brewery in the Wagon Wheel, said to check out Lake Orion," said Gindhart. "I had heard it was hard to open a business in Lake Orion, but I decided to look into it, and after (Perreault) showed me Whiskeys and the Wagon Wheel, she showed me the location at 51 N. Broadway, and the place just sang to me.

"We're still working out the lease agreement, but everyone, (Perreault) and (Village Manager Paul Zelenak), have been moving forward with this in good faith."

Gindhart is hoping to open the 51 N. Brewing Company in October.

Yet even if Gindhart decides not to move into the property, Perreault said the DDA will still try to lease the building out. She added the DDA was currently looking at a number of different areas to relocate to, particularly second story spaces in the downtown area, but that specifications like square footage and cost have not been considered yet.

51 N. Broadway was purchased in 2006 as part of a parcel of land that stretched from Lapeer to Broadway along Shadbolt. Originally, there were plans to demolish buildings on the parcel to make more parking, but only one structure, a quonset hut, was leveled. The building, including all three suites, is 4,700 square feet.

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