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Bistro project remains uncertain
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The Bistro? Maybe.



Will it be or won’t it be, that is the question… at least when your talking about the bistro planned for the Mercantile Center in Gays Mills.

The project has been under discussion for much of the last year beginning with the initial buyout proposal of 500 Main Street in December. By Feb. 6, Maxine Brooks, the owner of the Main Street property and possible proprietor of the café was seeking a Class B alcohol license. Her application coincided with that of Doug Enke’s for The Last Call tavern. Neither submitted the correct form and Enke beat her to submitting a new, and correct, application.

At the village board meeting on April 2, Recovery and Development Coordination Julia Henley informed the board that Brooks would seek another license for the village from the state legislature. Henley also received approval to have the village sign a Memo of Understanding on the buyout of Brooks Main Street property.

Two months later, it appeared the bistro was set to happen. Henley reported that utility and plumbing work to prepare the Mercantile Building space for construction of the bistro was set to begin on June 14. She also received approval of a 10-year forgivable loan of $340,000 for a build-out contract on the space with construction planned by August. Henley stated the developer’s agreement included the bistro and a 16-room inn on the adjoining lot on the north end of the Mercantile Center.

By August 23, the construction beginning date had been moved back to mid-November.

As of Oct. 15, nothing has been done in the space.

Asked for comment, Henley said she had nothing to offer in comment on the bistro project.

“Maxine Brooks is deciding if she will proceed with the project I believe within the next few weeks,” Henley said.

The space for the proposed bistro comprises 3148 square feet, just over 26-percent of the Mercantile Buildings entire square footage.

“Maxine Brooks has been in contact with the village,” confirmed village clerk Dawn McCann. “But we have nothing signed at this time.”

A finalized budget for the project is also still pending according to Andrew Schlifer of Weiser Brothers Construction, the contractors signed to build the bistro.

Brooks expressed hope that the project can still go forward.

‘I am waiting on confirmation that everything is clear and the numbers are right,” Brooks said. “I am waiting to hear back from an official at HUD and then I will get back the village board.”

Brooks expressed a desire to make no further comment on the progress of the bistro project, which she had discussed with her lawyer.

“Some things didn’t seem quite right, so I looked further into the situation and decided I needed to make sure the numbers are correct before I get into a situation,” Brooks added.

If the bistro doesn’t happen, what does this mean for the village?

“If she decides not to proceed, I will then begin work with other interested parties in the project, but without the support of the grant money,” Henley said.

The Bistro space represents a sizable portion of the rentable space in the Mercantile Center. As such, the revenues it would provide for the village should be correspondingly significant. Initial estimates of the revenue the Mercantile would provide once occupancy goals were reached were $26,000 a year. Mercantile revenues are marked to help pay the biannual loan payments on the loan for the new Csommunity Commerce Center. Those loan payments are $29,172, due each June and December. Rents from the Mercantile at its present tenanted rate of 47-percent are $11,232 per year.

That shortfall and the increased operating and maintenance costs of village property are being felt now as the Gays Mills Finance Committee works on the budget for next year.

“We are working on two budgets,” said Village President Craig Anderson. “We started out with the wish list and then we went to the other extreme, which we are still working on. Hopefully it can come out somewhere in between.”

Trustee Kevin Murray is less optimistic.

“Before the flood, we were paying around $55,000 in interest on our debt,” Murray said. “That was from the million dollar sewer job that was completed before the flood on properties that are largely gone now, demolished. With the debt from the new investments, our debt service on interest alone is around $85,000.”

“And our new buildings cost far more to operate,” Murray continued.

Murray explained that the village has largely abstained from being involved in the nuts and bolts of any particular business and the build-outs that are part of getting them into the Mercantile.

“That has really been an issue of the owners business plan and Julia Henley’s management of the project,” Murray said. “If the Bistro doesn’t happen, that means another space in the Mercantile Center not rented.”

“Getting a $340,000 forgivable loan is governmental engineering to make it possible,” Murray said. “That doesn’t mean the market will support it.”