Possible signs of new life for Sage Creek deal

 

IMLAY CITY — After getting few answers to their questions regarding the condition of city-owned land on E. Third Street, the Imlay City commission has taken action to enlist some expert help with the ongoing issue.

Ever since the fire department moved out of the old fire hall on E. Third Street, the city has been trying to sell three parcels, including the former DPW garage and what’s known as the “old sign shop.”

Known environmental issues have held up the sale of any, or all, of the properties including most recently, a proposal from Sage Creek Winery.

After hearing from Sam Moore, the Lapeer Development Corp. Executive Director, there is a renewed hope that something could still be worked out with the highly-successful Memphis-based business.

The commission agreed to Moore’s suggestion that if they could come up with $5,000, he would find another source for the additional $5,000 and hire an environmental consultant that will hopefully be able to clarify several issues.

During the meeting, the commission voted 6-1 to pledge $5,000 toward the cost of hiring a consultant.

Commissioner Al Ramirez cast the lone dissenting vote.

“After what the commission just approved, I am confident not only that I can find a partner for the remaining funds, but that we will eventually be able to get Sage Creek back to the table,” Moore told the Tri-City Times outside of the meeting room. “This is great news and I am excited that we will finally be able to get some answers for not only the city, but for any future potential developer.”

Commissioner Ramirez said he didn’t like how EGLE handled the site reviews for the city properties.

“I just don’t understand the secrecy,” he told fellow commissioners and the audience. “I look at Sage Creek and the city as being partners in this thing. I think the city should have been kept in the loop, but instead we’re in the dark about things.”

He added, “That property has been a money pit for the city. We’ve put in thousands and thousands of dollars to have the state come in, and it’s never been right. It’s always been contaminated.”

Moore said that while Sage Creek is considering other sites for a new winery, they haven’t committed to any one location or completely backed out of plans to develop in Imlay City.

“I don’t want to see our momentum stop and have to go through this all over again,” he said. “Whether it is them (Sage Creek), or any other developer, the city needs answers on that property and I feel we can cut through all the red tape and get to the end. I am optimistic we can get something done.”

Early last year, city officials put out an RFP (request for proposal) for three city-owned parcels on E. Third Street containing the city’s old fire hall, the former DPW garage and a vacant building that used to be the sign shop.

Officials from Sage Creek Winery were the only ones to submit a proposal to develop all three parcels for wine manufacturing and a wine tasting room. They had hoped to be open for business with their tasting room this year.

For months the city has waited, while EGLE completed Phase 1 and 2 environmental reviews on the properties. The agency has since requested further testing to be done at the sites.

That action caused officials with Sage Creek to recently send an email to the city saying they were putting their development plans “on hold.”

Both Moore and Christine Malzahn, the Executive Director of the Imlay City Downtown Development Authority were asked to come to the commission meeting by City Manager Craig Horton to update the members on the progress and potential of getting answers to their questions.

The board was told that hiring a consultant would give them an advantage in its continuing discussions with Michigan Dept. of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

“Having a consultant would give us a summary of what we can anticipate and what we might need to do to fix that property, just so we have a better understanding,” Malzahn said. “I think having input from an outside independent contractor may be a good route.”

Malzahn told the commission she recently submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on behalf of the city to obtain environmental reports that EGLE conducted on the city-owned parcels and any other assessment it performed in the city over the past 10 years.

Although city officials have heard verbal reports from EGLE, they have not received hard copy documents that Sage Creek Winery has access to.

City officials explained because the city owns the property and is considered a liable party, they were not privy to the results and could only obtain the reports via the FOIA process.

“EGLE doesn’t work on behalf of municipalities. They only work with developers so they can bring awareness to what their potential liabilities might be,” Malzahn stated. “EGLE assumes that if you own the property, you already know what you have.”

Moore told the Tri-City Times Sage Creek saw the amount of work that had to be done as further delays and a bit intimidating and decided to pump the breaks on the Imlay City location.

City Manager Horton explained it was Sage Creek that had requested EGLE to conduct reviews on the properties.

“When Sage Creek said they’d enter a purchase agreement with us, EGLE said they’d give them grant money for Phase 1 and Phase 2 reviews. To know what’s going on with our own property, we had to submit a FOIA request.”