By Bill O'Brien
ELK RAPIDS — A proposal to convert a downtown riverfront building into a brew pub fell flat and village officials instead will convert the site to a public park.
Elk Rapids Village Council members agreed to demolish two buildings at the former Bech's property along Dexter Street, and will create open space along the Elk River. The decision scuttles a potential brew pub as proposed by Short's Brewery, one of the state's fastest-growing breweries that operates a production facility in Elk Rapids.
Village officials met with Short's representatives in recent months to discuss a possible public-private partnership. But the village was reluctant to sell the property, which officials last year purchased from foreclosure for $600,000. Short's representatives, meanwhile, said they didn't want to make a major investment in property the brewery didn't own.
"Ultimately, we felt a lease wasn't something we were comfortable with," said Matt Drake, operations manager for Short's. "At the end of the day, they wanted a lease and we wanted them to sell."
Village President Dan Reszka said he wanted to seek proposals from Short's and other potential developers.
"There might have been other people that were interested in the property," Reszka said.
But a majority of the council supported the village's Harbor Commission recommendation to keep the property open and undeveloped. The village installed 22 boat slips along the river to raise money repay the harbor fund, which paid for the property. Reszka said there was widespread public support for keeping the site undeveloped. But other residents contend the decision was a lost opportunity for the village to increase its tax base, create jobs and make the site a year-round destination.
"It was a land grab, in my opinion, by the village and the Harbor Commission," said Dennis Irelan, a local real estate agent and former member of the village's Downtown Development Authority board. "It's much more valuable to the community as a viable business center."
Short's, which operates its original brew pub in nearby Bellaire, hasn't given up on creating a tasting facility in Elk Rapids. Drake said the company is mulling plans for a "beer garden" in a building near its production facility in the village's industrial park. But it wants to make sure it won't negatively affect production needs for its expanding operation.
"We want to stay in the village," Drake said. "But we're starting to bump up against their infrastructure constraints."