2006-07-29 / Top News

Leases Dominate MISP Mid-Summer Meeting

By Karen Gould

Three property leases generated discussion about historic relevance and future property ownership during a meeting of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission at Fort Mackinac Friday, July 21. Commissioners begrudgingly signed a lease with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the bike path at Mission Point, approved the West Bluff Hamady cottage lease for 20 years following a major renovation, and reached an agreement on the ultimate disposition of the old water pump station on the east side of the Island, giving a lifetime lease to Mike Bradley with the stipulation that his home be removed and the land be leased to nobody else when Mr. Bradley leaves.

The Park Commission has been maintaining its shoreline bicycle path at Mission Point under a use agreement with the Parks and Recreation Division of the DNR, but has been seeking ownership of the property so it can control development there. Afive-year lease, with the option for four five-year renewals, however, has been the best commissioners could do, and they agreed to sign the new lease last Friday, but made note of their continued desire to own the land.

The bicycle path branches off M-185, offering bicyclists and walkers an alternative path close to the water's edge in front of Mission Point Resort, before again meeting up with M-185 near the city's water treatment facility. The lease of the path includes 15-feet of land on either side from the center of the path, which the Park Commission built in 2000. There is no fee connected with the lease.

Commission Chairman Dennis Cawthorne said the commission should again pursue acquiring the property in the future, and he asked that the minutes reflect that suggestion.

"The commission believes that the long-term interests of the public would be best served by an outright conveyance to the commission of this property at some time in the future," he dictated to the secretary. A 20-year lease for $4,876 year was granted to Wonderview LLC, a company managed by Peter Hamady, now that the family has upgraded the large cottage to park standards. The Mackinac Island State Park Commission owns the land but, not the cottages, on the East Bluff and West Bluff and lease that land to cottage owners. The Wonderview lease renewal covers four lots that encompass cottage, grounds, barn, and laundry house. The park had requested that repairs be made by July 31 to the house, which had fallen into disrepair during an estate transition.

"They have done an outstanding job," said Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, over which the park commission presides, "and they have made an outstanding commitment to preserving and restoring the cottage, which has taken a lot of time and a tremendous amount of money. It has enhanced not just the property but the entire West Bluff," he said. "It's a model for other homes."

The majestic cottage is at the top of the West Bluff road, at Pontiac Lookout.

Michael Bradley was granted a life-long lease at the rate of $40 a year for property on which his home is built and once also housed the City's power plant. Mr. Bradley grew up in the home, on the Island's east side, when his father operated the now-defunct facility.

At the end of the lease, the property will be returned to its natural state and will no longer be leased for private purposes.

The park first leased the property for the power plant and plant engineer's house in 1901. The plant pumped water to the reservoir at the top of the Island and also served as the Island's electrical generating plant, with both operations owned by Edison Sault Electric Company. Edison Sault would later bring electricity to Mackinac via underwater cables from the mainland and eventually shut down the generators in 1973. Edison also sold the Island's water distribution system to the City of Mackinac Island, which built a new pumping and filtration system at Mission Point in 1986, and the old power plant was torn down in 1990.

The house was sold by Edison to its plant engineer, Elmer Bradley, in 1976 and the Mackinac Island State Park Commission continued leasing the property to the family, transferring it to Mr. Bradley's wife, Joan, and eventually to their son, Michael. The final lease, for 20 years, expires September 5.

The Park Commission, contending that the property was only intended for a residence to serve the utility, worked out the lifetime lease with Mr. Bradley in return for the opportunity to take the property out of its lease inventory at a future date.

"We need to emphasize that the purpose of this property, the purpose of this lease in 1901, was to provide a residence for the manager of this plant," said Mr. Porter. "The commission has been most patient in extending the lease well beyond that function ending in 1973. This is a unique situation, and all of the other places where we have residences were designed and have been set aside and leased for the purposes that they are still used for, and that is as residential lots."

Mr. Manoogian suggested that a clarification be added to the minutes that this decision was not intended to set a precedent for other leaseholders, and Island resident Peter Marabell agreed.

"It would be very helpful to forestall the beginning of rumors, let alone the spreading of them," he said.

Island resident Frank Pompa noted the historic value of the building, which was constructed in the 1940s.

"After a 50-year period, this does become an historic building and it may not be in a place that we like, but it is what it is," he said. "It's vernacular architecture."

Mr. Porter responded, "It was a temporary piece of architecture that has outlived its purpose and the commission has the responsibility of restoring the natural beauty of the Island."

Continuing the lease at $40 a year was another concession. Under the commission's new lease structure established in 1992, the new rate should have started at $1,392 and increased with inflation after that. The $40a-year rate could be continued, commissioners reasoned, because the property would be returned to its natural state at the end of the lease.

"By restricting the transferability and the extension of the lease, it decreases the value of the property," said Mr. Porter.

In another matter, the commission is in the process of applying for enhancement money for up to $250,000 for road repairs from the Michigan Department of Transportation. If approved, the grant would be awarded sometime next year, said Mr. Cawthorne.

Mr. Porter said he had a specific list of road projects, with the worst road being East Bluff, a seal-coated road. He also said upper East Bluff needed repairs. Other roads on the list include a stretch of road from the bottom of the cemetery area to Fort Holmes, and sections along Carriage Road, Forest Way, the airport, and Turkey Hill.

Overall, attendance levels are flat at Mackinac State Historic Parks this summer, while revenue has dropped in response to entrance discounts offered to group tours. The park is selling the same number of tickets, although at a discounted rate, which accounts for the revenue drop, explained Mr. Porter.

Commissioners learned that adult motor coach traffic and student group attendance at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse accounts for an increase in traffic this season, while other sites remain down. He would not say by how much.

"The adult motor coach business in this country has plummeted in the last decade, and to begin to see some recovery from that is very encouraging," said Mr. Porter. Studying the patterns of visitors

as they explore Mackinac State Historic Parks sites, park officials hope to learn what displays, reenactments, and presentations work and what aren't working as they move to improve existing attractions and developing new ones.

Commissioners approved a retirement resolution for park employee Gregory Steiner, who has worked for the park since 1978. While there, he worked on trails, boardwalks, and constructed period furniture and display cases.

Commissioners also commended outgoing Commissioner Audrey Jaggi, who did not attend the meeting and whose term expired April 12. She continued to serve on the board until Father Jim Williams was appointed by the Governor July 19.

A resolution of appreciation was issued to Arnold Transit Company, Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry, and Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry for volunteering to donate 50¢ of bicycle ticket sales to the commission.

Commissioners elected officers during the meeting and Dennis Cawthorne will remain chairman, making him the longest serving chair in the commission's history, a position he has held since 1991. Karen Karam was reelected vice-chair and Laurie Stupak was elected secretary.

Commissioners next meet Friday, September 22, at 1:30 p.m. at Fort Mackinac.

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