By Jennifer Gallus
HOWARD LAKE, MN - During a special meeting Tuesday, the Howard Lake City Council decided it would lease the old grocery store building from owner Mark Custer with the intention of making improvements to the building, and leasing it to a new grocer.
Many council members, including the mayor, stated that they had “a feeling” that a deal would “go through” at an upcoming meeting with the grocer.
The lease will be a six-month arrangement where the city will pay $1 per month, along with the last half of the taxes for 2009, which is $5,276, and pay the utility bill each month.
In order to make the building more attractive for potential grocers, the city council is proposing to improve the building by installing a new roof, a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC), electrical updates, and construct a new concrete front on the store.
No decision has been made as to whether all these improvements will officially be done, or what the time frame will be for any of the possible improvements.
If the improvements were approved, the roof would cost $46,504, the new HVAC system would be $21,982, updating the electrical would cost $10,603, and the new concrete front would be $1,840, all of which total $80,929.
Any improvements the council decides to perform on the building will be paid out of the city’s Voyager Fund, which is a fund that isn’t generated by City of Howard Lake taxpayer dollars.
Currently the fund holds $424,000, and Voyager Funds are designed to be risky money, according to City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp.
The fund is one of the city’s economic development authority’s (EDA) tools, explained Hinnenkamp, “so to risk a little bit of the money isn’t completely out of line,” she added.
The council agreed that if a deal isn’t made at the upcoming meeting with the potential grocer, then it should proactively discuss options with the other two or three potential grocers who have expressed interest in the business.
Many also agreed that some of the improvements should be made sometime soon.
Council Member Tom Kutz said, “The city has to play some part in this equation. Improving the building is one part of the puzzle.”
Mayor Richard Lammers replied, “I think it shows our commitment, and an act of good faith. It shows the citizens that we’re working hard to get a store, and it says that a lot of people in the community want a grocery store here.”
“Regardless,” Lammers said, “ I think we should take up the lease now, get in there, and make the improvements so it’s ready to move in.”
Council Member Jan Gilmer agreed that the city should lease the building from Custer, but he would rather wait to do any improvements until a grocer has made a commitment.