City council could ask chamber to make repayments on building repairs

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, January 16, 2019

NILES — The city may be seeking repayment from the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce to help cover the cost of repairs made to the chamber’s former office location at the Old Carnegie Library, 321 E. Main St.

During a regularly scheduled meeting Monday night, city council members voted unanimously to initiate a payment collection discussion with the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce, formerly the Four Flags Chamber of Commerce. The city owns the Old Carnegie Library, which up until recently housed the chamber. A lease between the city and the chamber had outlined the chamber’s responsibility to cover repair costs, according to city leaders.

At the start of the year, the former Four Flags Chamber of Commerce merged with the Southwest Michigan Economic Growth Alliance to form the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce. The nonprofit recently moved out of the Carnegie Library and into City Hall.

The discussion was not on the agenda for Monday night and was spurred by former Niles mayor Mike McCauslin, who spoke during the public comment period. McCauslin asked the city to consider asking for repayment. He said it was the right time to do so as the chamber recently sold the Four Flags Plaza building to General Capital and had garnered money from the sale.

“The chamber does a lot of good things for the community,” McCauslin said. “One of their commitments [as] tenants is holding true to one’s commitments.”

The city entered into a lease with the chamber in 1976. The general terms included a $1 a year lease and chamber responsibility for improvements, repairs and replacements to the building, according to McCauslin.

However, McCauslin said the city had footed the bill for building repair costs.

“As it stands for 40 years, the chamber has relied exclusively on the city to repair and maintain the building,” he said. “One would hope that the chamber, so graciously supported by the city for over 40 years, would at this time come forth and do the right thing and offer reimbursement.”

According to City Administrator Ric Huff, the city paid for repairs to the Old Carnegie Library’s stonework for $18,000 and the roof for a cost $16,480. Huff said that on both accounts, the chamber said they did not have the funding to pay for the repairs.

During council members’ reports at the close of the meeting, council member William Weimer said he agreed with McCauslin and wished to start a discussion on recollection with the chamber. Council member John DiCostanzo, who made his report after Weimer, motioned for council members to start the conversation.

Mayor Nick Shelton said he agreed that the chamber had violated its lease agreement, but said he was not sure city leaders did enough to hold them accountable.

“I think this is a delicate situation because this is a brand-new group whom I do believe will do lots of good for our community,” Shelton said. “The way in which we handle this conversation is very important. It’s a good group of board members who would be open to that discussion.”

At this time, Huff said the city does not have an approximation on how much the chamber could be asked to repay.

“There are some larger expenses that stick out, but the chamber is still moving out of the building, so we haven’t had an opportunity to evaluate everything,” he wrote via email Monday afternoon.

Huff, who also serves on the board of the newly formed Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce, said he expected them to come to a resolution quickly.

Mark Weber, a co-chair of the chamber’s board of directors, commented after hearing the news Tuesday. 

“The concern raised at the city council meeting is new information to us,” Weber said. “The chamber has always been a good partner with the City of Niles. We will be in conversation with Ric Huff to determine the best way to resolve this issue to everyone’s satisfaction.”