Council OKs city offer for downtown lot

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - The Niles City Council voted unanimously Monday night to purchase the vacant lot at the corner of Fourth and Main streets, Niles.
The lot, formerly the location of a SuperAmerica convenience store and gas station, is owned by Aalf's Petroleum.
The council approved a purchase price of $75,000.
The purchase of the property could hinge on the results of an environmental assessment, also approved Monday night.
The city already owns the property at the corner of Fifth and Main streets, next to the Aalf's property.
Both are located beside the Niles Daily Star building, which houses the offices of Leader Publications, publishers of the 117-year-old Niles newspaper, as well at three other southwestern Michigan newspapers and The Leader, a free distribution shoppers guide distributed in Berrien and Cass counties, as well as Clay Township, Ind.
Terry Eull, Niles City Administrator, said he expects to bring before the city council in January an option for Leader Publications to buy some portion of the city-owned property.
Niles Mayor Mike McCauslin said the purchase of the Aalf's lot, along with the now vacant city lot next to it, would allow the city to sell a portion of the two properties to Leader Publications for its expansion needs, as well as allow for the development of some kind of attractive green space for residents and visitors of the city to enjoy.
Leader Publications has offered to buy the property at Fifth and Main for $52,000, its appraised value, which it would like to use for an expanded parking lot for its employees, as well as future expansion of its business.
The Niles Downtown Development Authority recommended to the city council selling the property to Leader Publications.
Doug Phares, president of Leader Publications and publisher of the Niles Daily Star, said his company, if successful in purchasing the property, also intends to improve the facade of the building facing Main Street.
Phares said Leader Publications has entered into an agreement with Debbie Campbell, widow of Niles attorney Murray Campbell, to purchase the entire building located between Fourth and Fifth streets and Main and Sycamore.
Leader Publications already owns the portion of the building that houses its press and mailroom operations. However, that offer is also contingent on Leader Publications securing the now city-owned property along Main Street between Fourth and Fifth that it needs for future expansion.
In other business Monday night, the council denied a request by Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Gushwa Sr. of Niles to forgive a $15,000 loan from City of Niles Community Development funds, issued in 1998 and intended for use to improve their home.
The Gushwas told the council they had fallen on hard times and were selling their home. They said they need the money to "start over." Mr. Gushwa asked for mercy from the council.
However, Niles City Councilmember Robert Chute said forgiving the loan would set a terrible precedent for others who, like the Gushwas, have benefitted from such city loan funds.
Councilmember Dan VandenHeede pointed out the loan was made to allow the Gushwas to improve their home. He said the loans are designed for repayment at the time the home is sold because of such equity improvement for the owners.
Only city councilmember Patricia Gallagher voted to forgive the Gushwas' loan.

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