DDA gives nod on property purchase to Leader

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The Niles Downtown Development Authority at Wednesday's meeting unanimously recommended that the city sell the 0.25 acre lot at 413 E. Main St. in Niles to Leader Publications.
It also recommended that the city further investigate obtaining the adjacent lot, currently owned by Aalf's Petroleum of Buchanan.
The DDA was asked by the city council to make its recommendation on a buyer during a city council committee of the whole meeting held on Monday.
Monday's meeting gave four parties interested in purchasing the vacant lot on the northwest corner of Fifth and Main streets a chance to present their development plans to the city council.
Besides Leader Publications, who owns this newspaper, the three other interested parties are Family Fashions, Inc., Turna Inc. and Dr. Gerald Bieneman, DDS.
Terry Eull, city administrator, said the city council hasn't set a date to decide on a successful bidder yet.
Eull said the city is currently awaiting financial statements from all four parties.
Once those statements are obtained, the city council will vote and make its final decision, Eull said.
In its final decision, the city council is likely to take into consideration how the vacant lot will be used and how it will benefit the city in the future.
The city council is also likely to take into consideration the amount of tax revenue the property would create for the city under different owner, he said.
Leader Publications has offered $52,000, which is what the lot has been appraised at.
The four parties interested in buying the vacant lot have different development plans.
Michele Boyd, DDA chair, said Leader Publications wants to improve the lot for parking for its employees.
If the successful bidder, Leader Publications also plans to at some point improve the building facades facing Main and Fourth streets, she said.
Leader is currently negotiating to purchase the building in which its offices are located in downtown Niles from Deb Campbell, widow of the late Murray Campbell.
The city council has been informed via a letter from Leader's publisher, Doug Phares, that the purchase of the building is contingent on the company being able to acquire the corner lot at Fifth and Main streets.
Some of the developers, however, have also shown an interest in the adjacent lot, currently owned by Aalf's.
The DDA's recommendation came after an almost hour-long discussion, during which the DDA board members and other city officials weighed pros and cons related to selling the vacant lot to each individual buyer.
Eull, city administrator, said a commitment by Leader Publications would last decades.
Boyd sees benefits to the public if Leader is the successful bidder and creates their proposed parking lot.
John Grinnell, a local businessman, said when he first looked at Leader's proposal, he didn't find it very attractive.
But he is now positive to Leaders proposal, especially if the city can purchase the adjacent Aalf's lot.
The Main Street Initiative is trying to ensure new developments follows their development guidelines.
Several of the DDA board members agreed that it's important to look at what is in the best interest for the city in the future before they made their decision.
And they are also afraid that Leader may at some point in the future, if they are unable to obtain the vacant lot and purchase the building in which its Niles office is located in now, will find an other location which may be outside of the city.
Elizabeth Bradford, chair of the Main Street Initiative Design Committee, however, suggested the city hold off on selling the property until downtown renovations have been completed.
Bradford said it may be an idea to put the property out for bids in larger cities, "To let people know what's going on in downtown Niles."
Juan Ganum, Community Development Director, said the important thing to consider when deciding on a buyer is not the immediate use of the development, but the structure and design of the development.
Ganum said use changes more than structure and design will.
Both the vacant lot the city has for sale and the adjacent Aalf's owned property have contamination issues.
Eull said the Department of Environmental property is aware of the situation and wants to work with the city to come up with a solution when something is being done.

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