Plans still unclear for Ishpeming lot

ISHPEMING – Nearly two years after the J.C. Penney building in downtown Ishpeming was demolished and the lot was cleared, the parcel’s future is still up in the air.

The building was demolished in April 2011 after the Ishpeming Downtown Development Authority purchased it the fall before. Since then, Congress Pizza owners Mike and Jil Koski have had their eyes on the lot as a way to expand their business, Mike Koski said.

“We sent the DDA a letter of interest in May 2011 which laid out our intentions for the lot,” Mike Koski said. “We never heard back from them and then at their April 2012 meeting they made a motion to not sell the lot without telling us.”

According to the DDA’s April 2012 minute meetings, Mike Koski was invited to the meeting to discuss his what his plans for the lot were, but he was unable to make it to the meeting. The minutes also said a motion was made by DDA member Cheryl Kellow and seconded by city manager Jered Ottenwess to not sell the property and to have U.P. Engineeers & Architects prepare a proposal for use of the property. The motion carried.

On Sept. 10, 2012, members of the Ishpeming Planning Commission met with DDA members, city council members and Mike Koski to discuss the Penney’s lot. Only four members of the planning commission were present – not enough for a quorum.

At the commission meeting, Koski said his plan for the lot was to add an outdoor patio, expand the kitchen and add to the inside dining area. Councilwoman and DDA member Elaine Racine said she had Irv Krellwitz, an Ishpeming real estate agent, appraise the lot. She said Krellwitz told her the lot was worth between $5,000 and $10,000. The meeting ended with planning commission member Ray Roberts saying he hoped negotiations would move forward.

After the meeting, Roberts sent a letter dated Sept. 16 to DDA Chairman David Aeh saying that – per his notes – the DDA decided to peg the commercial value of the lot at $5,000 to $10,000, that Mike Koski would provide the DDA with a site plan drawing of the proposed multi-phase business expansion and the DDA would continue negotiations with Mike Koski toward the sale of the entire lot.

On Oct. 1, the DDA sent a letter to Mike Koski stating the DDA would like to see a reasonably detailed description of the improvements with a graphic illustration of some type, a timeframe for completion and a funding mechanism. The letter said the DDA expected to negotiate a mutually agreeable purchase and/or development agreement after review of the plan., This would create a legal obligation for Congress Pizza to implement the plan. Failure to do so would cause the property to revert to the DDA’s ownership.

“I have a problem with the property diverting back to them if we don’t meet their deadlines,” Koski said.

Jil Koski argued all sorts of things could happen – like the economy taking a dive – which could prevent them from finishing the project before the deadline. Mike Koski responded to the October letter on Dec. 27 stating that they would not enter an agreement with the DDA on the basis of a timeframe, funding and exact details of the improvements.

This letter was discussed at the DDA meeting Jan. 28 and a motion was made to have a committee sit down with the Koskis as soon as possible to try to work out a plan for purchasing the lot and to see a concept of the Koskis’ plans for the property. The board unanimously approved the motion.

Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401.