Proposed senior center project falls through

The Manistee County Council on Aging decided its proposed relocation of the senior center to the former Oleson's building in Manistee was not feasible. (News Advocate file photo)

The Manistee County Council on Aging decided its proposed relocation of the senior center to the former Oleson’s building in Manistee was not feasible. (News Advocate file photo)

MANISTEE COUNTY — A year ago, pieces appeared to be falling into place for the Manistee County Council on Aging (MCCOA) and its dream of relocating the Senior Center to the former Oleson’s Food Stores building in Manistee.

Since that time, however, the dream became less and less likely to materialize, and on Tuesday the MCCOA announced its decision to cease further pursuit of the project.

“When it comes down to it, we just can’t afford the building,” said Sarah Howard, executive director of the MCCOA.

Oleson’s closed its Manistee store in July 2016 after serving local customers for 36 years. In November of that year, the MCCOA announced its intent to buy the former Oleson’s building from Third Coast Development, which at that time planned to purchase the property from the Oleson family.

The MCCOA’s plan was to develop a new senior center and rent a portion of the building to Save-A-Lot Food Stores. Third Coast, meanwhile, was also looking to develop senior housing and retail on the property, creating somewhat of a  “Senior Village” surrounding the proposed senior center.

Third Coast’s housing plans hit a snag in April, however, as Manistee City Council voted against the developer’s second request for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT).

With a loan application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pending, the MCCOA pressed on, in hopes the senior center portion of the project could still become a reality.

Recently, the MCCOA learned its loan request was approved by the USDA, but upon further review of the financials decided the project wasn’t feasible after all. The board was able to decline the loan without penalty.

“It came down to too much uncertainty about the ability to make our payments and still maintain the level of services to our senior population,” Howard said. “We take our fiscal responsibility very seriously, not just millage money but all funds entrusted to us.”

Originally, the belief was that the MCCOA would be able to pay its monthly mortgage for the building with funds generated from Save-A-Lot’s rent payments for use of the space. The loan that was approved — $2.2 million at nearly 3.5 percent interest over 40 years — didn’t allow for that to happen as seamlessly as anticipated.

“We really studied our budget to see how we could do it, and what we would possibly have to give up,” Howard said. “My main concern from Day 1 was to avoid taking any services away from seniors, therefore we weren’t going to dip into any of our millage money (for payments on the building).

“The seniors deserve the services we provide, plus a lot more,” she said, “so taking any of that away for a building isn’t necessarily an appropriate use of money.”

The board’s decision to let the purchase agreement with Third Coast lapse resulted in a loss of $125,000 previously deposited in escrow. A generous donor, however, recently contributed $100,000 toward making the MCCOA whole for the deposit forfeited. The additional $25,000 came from non-millage sources including donations, bequests and memorials.

“Many people worked long and hard on this project,” said Maureen Barry, president of the MCCOA. “We recognize the need for senior housing in the area, and we know that this will be a disappointment to many.

“All the board members loved the idea of the Senior Village concept, but were concerned about the Council on Aging taking on that much debt.”

The current senior center — located at 457 River St. — is 4,300 square feet and “bursting at the seams,” according to officials.

The board is pursuing other avenues to obtain a larger space for the Senior Center and is open to ideas for potential sites. Officials can be reached by calling the Senior Center at (231) 723-6477.

“We are still in a building that is too small,” Howard said. “I think there are options out there for us, we’re just trying to figure out what’s the best fit for us, financially, and for the seniors.”

Save-A-Lot Food Stores is still scheduled to open its doors to the public on Jan. 10, 2018, in the former Oleson’s building, located at 160 Memorial Drive in Manistee.

The property remains in the ownership of Oleson’s, which is leasing the space to Save-A-Lot.

In November, D.J. Oleson of Oleson’s Food Stores told the News Advocate if the senior center project fails to materialize, Oleson’s would then weigh its options for the property which include renting more space or selling it completely.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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