TAWAS CITY – The Tawas City Council has made a counter proposal to potentially rent out the building in Anchor Park. The decision was made, among other action, at their Nov. 4 meeting.

Officials are offering Gwen Hayes an annual lease rate of $6,000 to operate a small café from the venue, with the city to pay the water/sewer bill and also share the costs of making some improvements to the structure.

Council members are receptive to the city paying the water bill because, as a city park, the restrooms in the building must be available to the public when Hayes is open, regardless of whether they are customers of hers.

Councilman Mike Russo pointed out that Hayes does not plan on running the café year-round. Therefore, he asked for clarification on if the building would be open to the public all year.

City Manager Annge Horning said no, explaining that it will be treated the same as the other restrooms in the city parks, which are shut down in the winter months.

A decision to rent the space to Hayes is still not final, as her initial proposal asked for a three-year lease, at $100 per month. The action taken by officials was simply to make Hayes a different offer.

The matter has been discussed on and off for the last couple months and, as some council members have expressed, they believe that $100 is too low.

Mayor Pro Tem Brian McMurray, for example, said that when the building was previously rented by the Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce, the lease was $400 a month, with the water and sewer bill being paid for out of that total.

He said he thinks a rate somewhere in this range would be more reasonable, and he has also shared concerns about creating an unfair advantage in relation to other businesses.

Mayor Ken Cook reiterated a similar point he has made in prior discussions. His concern is the city not charging a typical, competitive rental rate to which comparable businesses in and around the community are accustomed.

For instance, he said coffee/tea shops in downtown East Tawas pay much more than $100 per month, and likely more than even the $400 option being considered.

Cook said he is worried about undercutting, and that he believes the cost needs to be fair market rental. “I’m definitely not in favor of $100.”

He added that he would maybe consider the $400 range but, given the amount of money that will be put into the building improvements, he had doubts about whether this would be a good investment for the city.

“Do we need to do some of these updates? Yes, if we’re going to use the building in this way, yes,” Cook pointed out, though.

Horning provided officials with a summary of the proposed work that the city would be responsible for, in reference to the upgrades.

“The total for the City is estimated at $41,967, and $32,900 of that has already been budgeted. That leaves a remaining estimate of $7,167 that is not budgeted,” she stated.

As previously reported, the requested changes by Hayes include such items as a larger water heater, some electrical work, improvements to the outdoor deck, new flooring and making each of the doors, as well as the restroom, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.

Horning has pointed out that making the restroom ADA-compliant was already in the budget, at $12,000, and the city is moving toward this.

Connecting to the municipal wastewater system, at an estimated $20,000, was also already budgeted by the city. The remaining improvements will either be paid for by the lessee, or shared between the renter and the city.

Of the proposed work, McMurray noted that many of the tasks seem to be what practically any tenant would require, and he thinks that these renovations make sense.

One item some of the council members were hesitant about, though, was a new $3,800 water heater, with the cost proposed to be split 50/50 among the city and Hayes.

“I know we were talking about rent but, I don’t know that we would install the expanded water heater system as we remodel that bathroom,” said Cook. “The water heater that’s there is probably at the size to handle the bathroom needs itself.”

“Well, if she’s the tenant, or any food service type business is the tenant, the water heater has to be done now because the one that’s there is not sufficient; it’s really only good for the restroom,” Horning said.

Russo agreed, noting that the Health Department won’t approve Hayes’ operation without an additional hot water heater.

Officials continued their talks, ultimately approving Cook’s motion to make the new proposal to Hayes, with the city chipping in on the enhancements as presented.

As reported, Hayes’ proposal was shared with the planning commission on Sept. 10. They recommended that the council consider the request, as they felt a café was a good fit for the park.

“They did however feel that the Council needs to negotiate on the proposed monthly lease payment,” Horning stated at the time.

The council addressed this at their Sept. 16 meeting, and requested more information on exactly who would be responsible for what costs, as well as other elements of the proposal.

In her proposal, Hayes writes that she has experience in setting up and running a similar business, as the owner/operator of Craving in East Tawas. “I managed that café for two summer seasons and would have continued if it were not for the sale of the building,” she stated. “I am proposing to continue the success of Craving at the location in Anchor Park.”

She advised that Craving’s offerings included homemade muffins, baked goods, sandwiches, salads, soups, smoothies and coffee drinks, with everything being freshly made on site.

As for the Anchor Park locale, Hayes says this is ideal for those using the biking/walking trail, and would provide a welcome “resting” spot.

City officials voted in February 2018 to turn the property into a park, after it was vacated by the chamber in December 2017. The land is located at 402 E. Lake St. (US-23), and the building measures just under 800 square feet.

In separate business, the council voted to refer to the planning commission a request to vacate Oak Street.

As Horning shared at the prior council meeting, she would like them to consider vacating the portion of Oak Street which is located south of Lake Street (US-23), adjacent to 530 E. Lake St., formerly known as Mac’s Bait Shop.

She gave the council a map showing the section of the street in question, noting that half of the 60-foot right-of-way is already a part of Lake Huron. She added that, due to erosion, the land is actually even smaller now than what is shown in the map.

“The City doesn’t have any utilities in this right-of-way and we have no anticipated future need for it. I would like the City Council to refer the request to the Planning Commission for inclusion on their next agenda,” she stated.

Once this is done, the next steps will include commission members holding a public hearing on the matter.

In other business, an introduction was given of Ordinance No. 322 to repeal Ordinance No. 132, Vehicles for Hire. Often referred to as the “taxi cab ordinance,” Horning said the city’s Vehicle for Hire ordinance requires drivers to register with the city, which then gives them a license to display.

However, this is now obsolete and needs to be repealed, since the state of Michigan has new regulations regarding vehicles for hire, that are administered at the state level.

“As required in the Charter, the ordinance has to be introduced at a meeting and cannot be approved at that same meeting,” Horning said. This item, then, will be on the agenda of the Nov. 18 council meeting, at which time officials will hold a public hearing to receive comments on the proposed ordinance.

In separate topics, Horning also shared the following updates:

• All of the cement work for the city’s 2019-2020 fiscal year paving projects is complete. “We’re just waiting for Bolen Asphalt Paving Inc. to get us on their schedule before they close the asphalt plant for the winter.”

• Every year through the St. Joseph Foundation, the local hospital gives out the Spirit of St. Joseph award and recipients are honored at their Winter Gala.

“With the 2020 event, they are recognizing our local law enforcement and honoring the Tawas Police Authority [TPA], Oscoda Township Police Department, Iosco Sheriff’s Department, and Michigan State Police Post 32,” she stated, adding that the Winter Gala will be Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. “Please consider attending and supporting the TPA as our staff is recognized.”

• Iosco County Emergency Management Coordinator, Ed Rohn, advised Horning that he will be starting the efforts to declare a county wide state of emergency for Iosco County, due to the erosion issues and record-high water levels.

Horning said this is in the very beginning stages, so she will keep the council informed on any new developments. (See separate story for details on Rohn also securing more than 48,000 sandbags to be used by county residents dealing with coastal flooding from Lake Huron).