TAWAS CITY – An electric bike rental/tour and sales operation has set up shop in the Anchor Park building, following a 7-0 vote of the Tawas City Council to accept a lease proposal from Charlie Horse Enterprises, LLC.
Located at 402 E. Lake St. (US-23), the space was last used by the Tawas City Police Department (TCPD) as a temporary station for a few months, before they recently moved into their permanent home at 1175 W. Lake St. Prior to this, the building in Anchor Park served as the Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce headquarters, but has otherwise essentially been vacant since December 2017, when the chamber relocated to Newman Street in East Tawas.
Upon the TCPD leaving Anchor Park, the city advertised for lease proposals for use of the building. Two submissions – one from the Iosco County Veterans Affairs Office and one from Charlie Horse Enterprises – were reviewed by the Tawas City Planning Commission during their Aug. 3 meeting.
“They took action to recommend the City Council approve the proposal from Charlie Horse Enterprises, LLC and allow the Iosco County Veterans Affairs Office to lease the space if Charlie Horse Enterprises decides the space will not work for them,” stated Tawas City Manager Annge Horning.
It was at the council’s most recent meeting on Aug. 16 where Horning explained that the planning commission felt the bike business would be a better fit at this particular site, and was a better complement to the park use.
As previously reported, it was in February 2018 when, following a recommendation from the planning commission, the council voted to turn this property into a park. One of the main reasons was that the land is located in the waterfront zoning district.
Horning has explained that there are very limited uses for a building in this district so, if the city advertised to lease the property, there wouldn’t be many options for what could be done there. However, the uses would expand with the property becoming a park, and the city could allow a vendor to utilize the space in a way which fits well with the park.
The building and parking lot were acquired by the city in 1948 from the state highway commission. A deed restriction was included which mandated that the land only be used to maintain a tourist information booth and restrooms. The restriction was removed in 2014, but the property immediately to the south of this can only be used for parks and recreation purposes. Therefore, Horning has said it makes sense to also designate the former chamber property as a park.
In the proposal from the veterans office – which is housed in the lower level of the county annex building – Veterans Service Officer Ron Whitney wrote that Anchor Park would facilitate veterans, both in accessibility and visibility. The organization offered to lease the building year-round, at a rate of $150 per month.
“We felt incredibly bad about having to go next to veterans services and their desire to have that building,” said Nicole Sauvola-LaMay, who was joined by her husband, Andrew, and their daughter, when speaking at the council meeting to further describe their venture through Charlie Horse Enterprises.
LaMay noted that there’s an office in the park building, and they would offer the veterans organization use of this space, if they needed to speak with someone who couldn’t be downstairs where the group currently works from.
“And we’ve also committed to give five percent of our net revenues to the veterans affairs offices, for veterans charities in Tawas, for six months out of the year,” she added. For the remainder, the business would contribute to a different local charity each month.
LaMay said that she and Andrew, who are originally from Clio, have spent a lot of time in the Tawas and surrounding areas. “And we decided that the best place to raise our daughter was here.” So, they sold their home in Florida, as well as their home in Bellaire, and brought all of their resources to invest in brick and mortar shop in Tawas City.
LaMay says they have developed a business model to produce tours on electric bikes, of up to 10 adults. “We will take teenagers if they’re 15 and older, and accompanied by their parent.”
“Our goal in Tawas is to establish relationships with local restaurateurs, shops and businesses to create unique ‘themed’ tours for tourists and locals to try out what the city has to offer,” the proposal reads.
LaMay said they already had some events lined up, such as a pizza progressive that next Saturday. With the intent of supporting local establishments, the plan was to ride the bikes to a couple different pizzerias in Tawas City and East Tawas, along with making stops in Alabaster Township and at Tawas Point.
To allow people a chance to test out the electric bikes, those from Charlie Horse Enterprises were to also be at the Wurtsmith Air Museum Fly-In in Oscoda, earlier that same day.
LaMay said there is already quite a bit of interest in an event they will be sponsoring on Oct. 29, as well. A Halloween Costume and Murder-Mystery Ride is in the works, which will utilize the shops and other downtown areas. “So people will have to go to those shops and pick up a card, and something in the shop may be something that has to do with the mystery or the murder.”
Further, she told the council that they will sponsor monthly activities to support the outdoors and other highlights in the community, even through the winter when they aren’t renting bikes.
The business is looking to hire local, as well, and anticipates bringing on one to five employees in the next 12 months.
LaMay said they are organizing the bike tours to incorporate art, theater, history, culture, food and the outdoors – including the birding opportunities – as a way to showcase what the area and its merchants have to offer. “And we’re also going to get some standard bikes for people who don’t want to ride electric bikes, but they still want to do the tours.”
In addition to the rentals/tours, the business is a dealer of American electric bikes. Some will be available on site, and they will also be sold online.
As for the tour bikes, LaMay says that the Raven brand they will use features a drink holder, a basket, an incredibly sturdy frame and a reliable battery. “They’re very pricey to the average person, but that’s why we decided to invest in these bikes – so that people in the community who may not be able to afford to buy an electric bike, they could still enjoy them and have an opportunity to rent.”
As noted in the proposal, taking a tour on electric bikes also allows older individuals to enjoy the outdoors, with less effort than the use of a traditional bicycle. The electric models are designed to travel at 14 miles per hour or less, and only provide assistance when the terrain or the pedaling incurs substantial resistance.
LaMay explained that the bikes are pedal assist. “So when you stop pedaling, the bikes stop; there’s no motor associated with it.”
She said the electric element is great when traveling uphill, or when a person is coming to the end of a long ride and they’re tired. The bikes can also be used by people of all ages and abilities, including those with minor difficulties who can’t ride a standard bicycle. “You still have the resistance. If you wanted to turn the power off on the bike, you can, and ride it as a regular bike.”
According to LaMay, the bikes are durable, safe and are loved by those who have toured with Charlie Horse Enterprises already – which included a July jaunt from Traverse City to Suttons Bay.
“What we think we will bring to the area, is increased marketing and use of the existing bike trail. We’ve been up and down the trail a number of times and it really is so beautiful, north or south; it doesn’t matter,” she told the council. “So we’re trying to actually establish events that take advantage of the points along the trail, as well.
“We’ve also ridden the bikes to Oscoda,” she continued. “We’ll go 30 miles, round trip.”
The proposal from the business entails a three-year lease, for which they offered to pay $900 a month in the first year, and provide the full payment upfront. In year two, they would agree to pay $1,200 a month to lease the building, which would be paid monthly. For the third year, they have proposed paying $1,500 each month.
If an agreement could be drawn up in time, LaMay said it would be ideal for the lease to commence that Friday, Aug. 20.
Mayor Pro Tem Brian McMurray asked about the time frame for when the business would envision operating the tours.
“As soon as it makes sense,” LaMay answered. Since they will have the building year-round, she said they will watch the weather, along with gauging the interest of customers through social media.
TCPD Chief Matthew Klosowski-Lorenz also attended the meeting and, in regards to public safety, he asked whether 100 percent of the riding will occur on the bike path, or if they will be traveling on the roadway at all.
“I know that there are Michigan biking laws, and we will make sure that Michigan biking laws are posted in our place of business and that people are educated on the laws before we leave,” said LaMay.
“They’re too precious to us to let somebody go off not knowing what they’re doing,” she also pointed out of the bikes. Therefore, those joining the tours will get some experience and training at the shop beforehand, to know exactly how the bike works.
Additionally, she will be riding at the back of the tour line, while Andrew will lead the group in the front.
“We have lots of safety equipment,” LaMay went on, noting that she and Andrew will be wearing vests, that all of the bikes have lights and that they will do everything necessary to keep things safe. “If you see something you think is a problem, we’ll do whatever we have to do.”
Klosowski-Lorenz said that he started his career in Key West, Fla., where there were numerous fatalities involving cyclists. “Every single day we responded to bicycles. And that’s why my question is, are they going to be operating on the roadway?”
He added that it is legal in Michigan but, just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
LaMay said it’s a raceway from their East Tawas home to Oscoda and, having a 3-year-old, this can be terrifying. “But I want to be able to ride my bike on Cornet [Road], because there’s a lot of beautiful countryside. But just because I want to, doesn’t mean that I should.”
While she didn’t directly answer the inquiry about planned tours on such roadways as US-23, she did note that they want to schedule some things in around the area parks, as well as Cooke Dam and Lumberman’s Monument in Oscoda. “And maybe the bike part of it isn’t going to be a long ride, but they’re going to be able to get an experience more than a bike ride.
“So our intent is to plan things in a way…because I don’t want the liability, either,” she continued. “I don’t want to lose everything I’ve earned my entire life, because that’s what we’re here to invest.”
Klosowski-Lorenz shared that he loved the business model but, for safety sake, he would prefer to see them stick to the bike path instead of being on US-23. Echoing LaMay’s comments, he cautioned that from Memorial Day to Labor Day, this road is a raceway from downstate to up north. “And not everybody is looking for bikes.”
Officials ultimately voted to accept the proposal from Charlie Horse Enterprises, LLC to rent the Anchor Park building, and for Horning to draft a lease agreement – which will then be reviewed by the city attorney – as soon as possible.
“Thank you so much,” LaMay remarked. “You won’t regret it.”
For more details on the new establishment, visit www.facebook.com/charliehorseebikes or call 310-0490.