Strike three for city riverfront restroom options
A third option for public restrooms near the City of Allegan’s new splash pad was not a popular one at the city council’s pre-session meeting on Monday, June 10.
Nevin Cooper-Keel presented a proposal to sell the basement/terrace property at 223 Hubbard St. to the city under the same terms as a previous offer by One Enterprises for the same property but with one change: He would knock off $19,000, as a “goodwill gesture to help the city on their losses on the project.”
While council member Mike Manning thought it was a great option, other council members wanted nothing to do with the deal and city manager Joel Dye said he would recommend against any dealings with the property.
Cooper-Keel’s proposal is the third private business owner to make an offer for restrooms to the city. The first two offers fell through.
The first option was a deal to rent the terrace floor of 217 Hubbard St. from JML Real Estate who pulled out of the project last fall the day before going to bid. The city quickly put a stop to a $25,000 architectural/design in process, but had already spent $19,000 on the plans.
The second option was with One Enterprises, a development company owned by Weichert Realtors Platinum Group agent Ben Otis and his father Mike who are currently rehabbing 136 Brady St. Otis was willing to purchase and develop condominiums at 223 Hubbard St., develop the basement/riverfront level (the Boardwalk Ice Cream Restaurant) into five to six public restrooms and storage and then sell the basement unit to the city for $203,000.
Days after the May 28 council meeting in which the proposal was discussed, property owner John Hanse backed out of selling the property to One Enterprises claiming he had made his own offer to the city and Otis jumped into the middle of it, taking away what he wanted to do with the property. In a letter to the city, Hanse said he thought it was discriminatory to give the opportunity to a “newcomer,” referring to Otis.
The city was then informed Hanse sold the property to Nevin Cooper-Keel whose insurance agency is a tenant of Hanse’s building at 223 Hubbard St.
Cooper-Keel requested a copy of Otis’s cost proposal to the city. He resubmitted it changing the name at the top and adding a $19,000 reduction at the bottom.
“We need bathrooms and this is a way to pick up the loss from a bad business deal,” Manning said. “Cool. Sounds good to me.”
Council member Traci Perrigo said she did not feel good about someone entering into a signed agreement with someone else and then backing out of it. She preferred to pull back and look at all other options.
Mayor Rachel McKenzie agreed. “Who’s to say this deal won’t fall through Mr. Cooper-Keel?” she asked.
Council member Delora Andrus said she’d like to know what the purchase agreement was.
“I’m also very concerned that these figures are the exact same as Mr. Otis who took the time to create them,” she said. “I know that he (Otis) is in construction and has contract work and was wondering if you have enough individuals who can meet the quotes because I’m not sure you do.”
Cooper-Keel said he is on the verge of receiving his residential builder’s license. He was not comfortable disclosing the terms of the purchase agreement
“I haven’t had any deals with the city before,” he said. “The proposal is for 10 percent less than the best deal.”
City manager Joel Dye said he wanted to be on the record that he was recommending not to enter an agreement with Nevin Cooper-Keel because ethically it did not sit well with him.
“Also, since 2016, there have been 30 police interactions at that property and this year there has been over 15 interactions so far,” Dye said. “In addition to getting restrooms on that riverfront, I would want to make sure what is going on there right now is not going on there anymore and I was more comfortable in doing that if One Enterprises was the developer and owner of that property rather than the current owner.”
Cooper-Keel said Dye misrepresented the situation. “The police have never been there to deal with me.”
Hanse said he was personally being taken down by saying he owns a building with police activity.
“The police activity has been that I have taken in a lot of the homeless in Allegan and a lot of the homeless in Allegan have drug problems,” he said. “So here I am being taken down because I am a good citizen helping people.”
Cooper-Keel said if the city has problems with deal breakers—“how about the deal that cost the city $19,000 and the city has nothing to show for it. Are you done giving them free real estate?” he asked. “I haven’t cost the city a thing and it makes me question what’s going on.
“I think it should be what’s best for the city not what’s best for your friends.”
At the end of the meeting, Tracy Stull said as far as the $19,000, the city still has a restroom design that can be utilized and is money not wasted.
As far as Dye or other city staff having friends in the community, she said they establish relationships with people like the Chamber of Commerce, Perrigo, Kugelard Construction, people with interests in the library, the cemetery, Jaycees, Lions Club, the Farmers’ Market, etc.
“We associate ourselves with people who are giving back to our community,” she said. “And Ben Otis gives back a lot.”
The council directed staff to look into opening prospective restroom ideas to other building owners, portable restrooms and building standalone restroom options.
“There’s no rush,” said Patrick Morgan. “The proposal with One Enterprises wasn’t expected to be completed by New Year’s Eve so that will give us time to look at other options, proposals and any fresh ideas.”