A $2 million streetscape project and the impending arrival of a new micro brewery is changing the landscape of downtown Lake Orion and launching what could morph into a restaurant district for the city.
The 51 North Brewery at 51 N. Broadway is a major development on its own, but the fact that it is moving into a massive, historic, downtown building that had no takers for several years makes it an even greater success, says Suzanne Perreault, executive director of the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority.
After the micro brewery owner, an accomplished home brewer, approached the DDA last December about locations for a business, DDA officials decided to carve a deal that would be beneficial for the entrepreneur and for the city and its tax base, Perreault says.
The building, a 4,700-square-foot former gas station on the north end of town -- an area the DDA wants to pull into the busier part of the downtown -- was purchased by the DDA in 2006. For all these years only the DDA's offices occupied a portion of the building, but it is now relocating. Because of the work needed to ready the building for retail and other business, there was no interest from business owners in leasing it, Perrault says.
"The original intention was to purchase it, tear it down and put in a parking lot," Perrault says."But one focus of the DDA is historic preservation."
"From our perspective we were willing to give a really good deal. We had purchased the building. We make no payments, so we can negotiate a good lease agreement. For us it's so beneficial. There are a lot of wins for the DDA in doing something like this," Perreault says. "Number one, we get a new business in downtown. We also create an anchor-type business on the north end and then we're going to see some job creation and we're going to put that property back on the tax rolls. It's been tax exempt the last five years. Now they're going to have to put money into the building to rehab it. It's a significant investment and they'll be paying taxes on that. So we wanted to offer a good deal that could get them in there."
She expects the planning commission to discuss the project the first week of November. If all goes as planned, renovations could begin shortly after in time for a February or March opening. The micro brewery will serve bistro-style food and house huge tanks for beer making.
Visitors to the micro brewery and downtown Lake Orion will find new street lamps that run on energy efficient LEDs, changes to make walking easier, redone streets and parking lots -- all part of the $2 million in improvements.
"We really think it's going to make our community just that much more appealing," Perreault says. "It's looking good and safe to walk around, we're improving parking. It's getting better and better."
Several other businesses are also in talks about joining downtown Lake Orion's 65 existing downtown establishments.
Source: Suzanne Perreault, executive director, Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine