City has interest in former Huntington Bank building

THE CITY of Rogers City is exploring the possibility of taking over ownership of the former Huntington Bank building as a future home for City Hall and retail sales. (Photo by Peter Jakey)

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor

It’s all in the initial discussion phase, but the city of Rogers City has an interest in moving City Hall from a side street to main street by possibly acquiring the former Huntington Bank building.

“That is something that is being looked at and considered,” said mayor Scott McLennan. “It does not mean it is going forward at all, but any time a building becomes vacant in a community, it’s a concern for everyone and we want to make sure all options are looked at: private, public, etc.”

On March 20, City Council members conducted an offsite workshop that involved a tour of the former downtown business that is currently vacant and listed for $299,000. It was closed in January 2023. 

It came up as an agenda item during Tuesday morning’s meeting and was tabled because more information is needed.

City manager Joe Hefele is a big proponent of the city purchasing the building at the right price and outlined a few reasons for council members in his report.

“I believe we could relocate City Hall to this location, sharing it with both retail and office space, which solves some of our long-term needs, as well as the very large problem of a lack of affordable space to rent in our downtown for retail/office,” said Hefele. “I believe our purchase also prevents a scenario where someone buys the building and does nothing with it, generating more empty, vacant space in a downtown that already has far too much of that.”

Hefele also believes the risk involved with this purchase is far outweighed by the potential benefit of seeing retail available in the many windows.

“If we were to get it for a good price, we could always look to put it back up for sale should our efforts to make it a key part of the downtown not come to fruition,” said Hefele. “My fear is that, the more the price drops, the more likely someone gets it to sit on for speculative reasons.”

On a 20-year mortgage through the United States Department of Agriculture, he believes would total less than $14,000 annually.    

Hefele added that recent community dashboard information compiled by the Michigan Department of Treasury indicates the city is in good shape (95th percentile in general fund cash ratio).&

nbsp;However, in both the Treasury documents and the snapshot put together by Michigan Main Street, the population continues to drop. 

“In the survey we conducted as part of the Main Street process, we found that a huge number of respondents shared that empty buildings and a lack of diverse shopping options in our downtown was our single biggest problem,” said Hefele. “I agree with them and believe that what we’ve done in the recent past has not worked. Bringing in Main Street was extremely important but that was the beginning of the process to protect and grow our downtown, not the end. 

“Half measures are not working. We need to be more aggressive, take bolder steps, take calculated risks. If we fail to do so, I see nothing changing for the better and find it more likely that existing downtown businesses will close rather than new businesses open.”