Gas prices continuing to rise became a major story in 2007

Published 7:40 pm Wednesday, January 2, 2008

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – To some, 2007 came and went in the blink of an eye. Many memorable stories made headlines, but only a few will truly stick out in the minds of area residents.
In no random order, the Daily Star did some research and brought back some of the biggest stories of the year.
10. Gas Prices
Believe it or not, on Jan. 17, 2007, gas prices were actually below $2 a gallon – $1.98 to be exact. In fact, on Feb. 12, state leaders as well as concerned Michigan residents argued that $2.15 was too much to pay at the pump. Since, gas prices have continued to rise, even passing the $3 mark this summer.
What will 2008 bring to gas prices? It's hard to say, but there may be another rise, considering that in 2006 gas price average was $1.42.
9. WNIL says so long
Ric "RC" Clingaman, the host of the local morning show broadcast daily on WNIL AM 1290, held the RC Finale Show on Friday, Jan. 12.
Visitors and old friends filed in and out of the WNIL studios during the final RC broadcast, dropping off pies, taking pictures and sitting and sharing stories with RC, Bell Star and Star Guy. The phone lines were also packed with well wishers and long-time listeners.
WNIL continues to broadcast local high school sports, including football and basketball games.
Clingaman is now in charge of the new performing arts center in Edwardsburg.
8. Ice-skating returns in Niles
Thanks to the generous volunteer work of a few individuals, a favorite past time came back to Niles at Eastside Park. Larry Allen had been pursuing the issue of bringing back an ice skating rink and in 2007, that wish came true.
A group of volunteers gave up their time to bring the rink to life, which offered winter fun for children and families. Ice skates were loaned to the public and The Niles Elks Lodge provided free hot chocolate.
7. Miss Niles gives up crown
The community was shocked by the announcement that Miss Niles-Brandywine Kylee Mudd handed in her crown.
A dispute between Mudd and Linda Schultz, chairman of the Miss Niles-Brandywine committee, brought Mudd to her decision.
In an apparent act of support, Miss Congeniality Cassandra Butus, and first runner-up Rita Umuriza, also handed in their banners and crowns, leaving second runner-up Stephanie Mantei to assume the role of Miss Niles-Brandywine.
This did not seem to have any influence on the pageant, as the new Miss Niles-Brandywine Whitney Spain was crowned with the 2008 title in November.
6. Niles listed in National Register
In June, it was announced that the City of Niles was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It took city workers over two years of research, convincing and time to make this possible.
In order to be considered for the list, National Register properties are distinguished by having been documented and evaluated according to uniform standards.
"It's wonderful – quite an accomplishment," Lisa Croteau, City of Niles program manager said. "We had great partners with the State Historical Preservation Office, including Bob Christsen, who helped make this possible."
Almost all of downtown Niles is on the National Register, with Sycamore, Main and Cedar Streets between Front and Fifth Streets being on the register.
5. Bombs away in Buchanan
The entire area was on high alert on Monday, Aug. 27 after a bomb threat was received at the Harding's grocery store in Buchanan.
The story not only made local news, but national news as well. Law enforcement officials said the threat was part of a nationwide hoax, which also hit other grocery stores in Utah and California.
Police sent a robot into the store to determine if there was a bomb, but could not find anything. Other buildings in the shopping plaza were evacuated, as well as homes in the area. Police blocked off the roads until 2:30 p.m.
Authorities believe the Buchanan Harding's may have been targeted because of the Western Union office located inside the store.
4. Will Riverfront ever reopen again?
One question still remains on the minds of everyone who has ever visited the Riverfront Cafe – Will it ever reopen?
Since its creditors closed its doors on Aug. 17, Riverfront Cafe has showed no sign of reopening. Well, except for the signs that hang in the window, stating the restaurant was opening soon and hiring.
In October, an attorney involved in the case said the restaurant opening soon isn't likely.
Riverfront Cafe was closed after Berrien County Judge Lynda Tolen ordered the property seized and given to the FNB Community Bank of Three Rivers as a result of non-payment of a loan.
Tom Watson, who is listed as one of the loan's guarantors, purchased the promissory note from the bank on Aug. 21 in the amount of $498,838, his attorney said.
Ownership of the note was changed from the bank to Watson's Tree Service, Watson's business, said a representative of Watson's at a brief Berrien County court hearing on Monday in St. Joseph.
Other owners of the business are Watson's estranged wife, Tammy, and Gerri Klinck. Once long-time friends, Tammy Watson and Klinck opened the cafe together in 2003.
3. And the blue ribbon goes to …
Howard-Ellis Elementary Schools can go down in the books as being the first Niles Community School to receive the recognition as a Michigan Department of Education Blue Ribbon Exemplary School in 2007.
Howard-Ellis was eligible to apply for Blue Ribbon status because the school received from the Michigan Department of Education an 'A' in the Education Yes! Accreditation Program, and also for attaining Adequate Yearly Progress with MEAP scores.
"This is a very proud moment for Howard School and Niles Community Schools," Doug Law, superintendent for Niles Community Schools, said.
The report earned Howard-Ellis a Dec. 6, 2006, site visit from administrators of another Blue Ribbon School in Saugatuck, who toured the building, talked with teachers and students and reviewed the 20 binders worth of information in the report.
Sixty-six Michigan schools applied for Blue Ribbon status, and 23 qualified for a site visit.
In the last three years, Howard-Ellis has implemented Spanish classes, writing lessons and a safety program. The school also has eight special education classrooms.
2. Simplicity, United Fixtures close doors
Two Niles companies closed their doors in 2007, costing a total of about 237 jobs.
At the end of September, Simplicity Pattern, who operated in Niles since 1931, announced it was ending all production and distribution operations at its Niles facility.
In a second blow, United Fixtures ended its operations at its Third Street plant in Niles in August.
Despite the announcement, good news followed as Bear Lake Fibre, LLC recently began production in an 82,000-square-foot leased building, which is located in the same facility as Simplicity Pattern.
Steve Bartocci, CEO and Managing Member of Bear Lake, purchased the paper machine assets, including the related equipment like fork lifts and maintenance equipment, to start what he hopes will bring more jobs to the area.
1. Niles evolving
With 36 grand openings in 2007, a $7 million dollar facility currently being built and the recent announcement of Morris Farms hoping to become a massive development, the future of Niles looks very promising.
The first grand opening of the year was held in January when Chemical Bank opened its doors.
"It's been an absolutely wonderful year for the City of Niles and the opening of so many businesses," Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ron Sather said at the final grand opening of the year.
More news of a promising future came in September, when a groundbreaking ceremony was held for Woodland Terrace of Longmeadow. The new assisted-living facility will focus on helping people with memory difficulties. The facility will bring around 40 new jobs to the area and increase to 70 jobs when it is fully complete.
Woodland Terrace is locally owned and operated by the Dockerty family, who also own the Woodland Terrace in Bridgman.
Another big announcement, made just last week, was the hopes of turning Morris Farms into a massive development.
Nancy Butler and her family, which own 935 acres located along the St. Joseph River in Niles Township, recently announced their intention to develop their property into something the entire community can be proud of. This plan is still some time away from beginning, but it's another positive step in Niles' future.