Greater Niles Chamber makes donation, repays city

Published 9:49 am Monday, May 20, 2019

NILES — The Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce announced last week that the organization is donating $2 million to the Hunter Foundation. City officials also confirmed that they had reached a negotiation with the chamber for repayment of repairs to the Old Carnegie Library building.

Mark Weber, the co-chair for the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce board of directors, made the donation announcement during the chamber’s 100th anniversary luncheon.

He said the chamber had been managing the Four Flags Apartments, a Section 8 Housing facility, for 38 years. Last year, they decided it was time to turn the property over to a different owner.

“The chamber board realized, you know what, we are really not in the housing and urban development business,” Weber said. “So, we made the decision to sell it to an entity that was better equipped to care for that facility.”

General Capital bought the property late last year and has been working on renovating it. With the sale of the plaza, Weber said the chamber generated more than $2 million in profits.

“We made a decision to donate that $2 million to the Hunter Foundation,” Weber said.

The Hunter Foundation provides funding and grants to help local businesses grow.

“With this donation, the Hunter Foundation has agreed to preserve the principal $2 million investment and only use the interest earned to support economic growth,” Weber said. “This amounts to about $100,000 in grants that can be extended to business and organizations each year.” 

At the beginning of this year, the chamber also began negotiating a repayment plan with the city. The city had helped the chamber to pay for repairs on the Old Carnegie Library building, where the chamber’s office was located until it moved to Niles City Hall. The chamber made the move after merging with the Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance to form the Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce.

According to City Administrator Ric Huff, negotiations concluded early this year.

“We reached a mutually agreeable resolution,” Huff said via email Friday. “The chamber will reimburse the city $50,000 for the repairs to the stairs and roof as well as a little money to make some minor repairs after they vacate, which they have.”

Huff had said in a previous interview that when repairs for the Carnegie’s roof and the building’s stonework cropped up, the nonprofit had not had the funds to make repairs.

The city owns the Old Carnegie Library and began a lease with the chamber in 1976. The lease had outlined the chamber’s responsibility to cover repair costs, according to city leaders. The chamber’s lease to the city was $1 a year.

During a city council meeting in January, former Niles Mayor Mike McCauslin had called upon city leaders to begin the negotiations for repayment because of the money the chamber acquired from the Four Flags Plaza sale. Following that meeting, city council members had voted unanimously to initiate a payment collection discussion.