Mall owner seeks hookup delay from Greenfield Council

The Greenfield City Council, at its June 3 meeting, listened to area business members voice concerns regarding connections to city water.

The area in question includes the North America property on the south side of Highway 55, a strip mall housing local businesses. Joe Francis, who owns and operates the mall, told the council that forcing him to connect to city water at this time would pose additional financial hardship on him and his rental clients. A couple of his renters attended the meeting to confirm this assessment and express what an added cost to operate would mean to their businesses.

Francis told the council that he’d faced this situation a few years back when he was notified that he’d need to hookup to city water. At that time he went before the council to express his concerns and was granted a three-year postponement. With that time coming to an end and circumstances similar to those when the delay was granted, Francis pleaded his case during open forum, as did others in attendance.

Several years (and a few councils) ago, plans to expand the city’s industrial park – including a service road and city amenities such as water – were drawn up with no definitive time line for the different phases, which would be implemented from east to west. In that plan, a road would run from Commerce Circle, where City Hall is currently located, behind the mall and gas station and connecting up to additional city-owned property. That property, known as the Siwek property, was purchased when the city constructed its wastewater treatment facility over a decade ago. The unused portion of the property was intended to be sold off by the city as out lots and is slated for industrial or commercial use.

In the ensuing years, there have been no strides toward finalizing the plans or beginning the project, and the Siwek property remains unsold.

Francis told the council that a stagnant rental climate had prompted him to offer significantly reduced rates to keep the clients he has. He said his rental properties continued to have a lower-than-normal occupancy rate and that he’d previously lost a strong prospect because of uncertainty surrounding the water connection issue.

Another point Francis addressed was hooking up water to the vacant property that was once a Holiday Station. Francis owns this property, just west of the mall, as well. He stated that it had no use at this time and he did not believe hooking it up to water would benefit the city. He estimated that the proposed mall hookup could cost him about $100,000.

“It a complex issue,” Francis said. “With this kind of expense,” he added, “we are at risk of losing two of our main tenants in this community.”

Francis continued, telling the board that he’d heard his request for a delayed hookup had been denied, but he wanted to take the chance to state his case.

Along with North America Mall tenants — Albert Usset, owner and operator of Ace Hardware, and Greg Bode for Sears — was real estate agent Bill Fisher of Lake Area Realty who relayed to the council the difficulty he’s had filling commercial rental spaces in the area. Usset and Bode spoke to the concession Francis was making in regard to their rental rates and the hardship it would result in if he had to pass on business costs associated with the proposed water hookups.

Greg Ebert, who has worked on projects with Francis and is president of Ebert Construction in Corcoran, told the council that he didn’t consider Francis a nonparticipating landowner but was, instead, a landowner in the dark about the city’s plans. He also suggested the city consider getting the state involved in the frontage road project because it relates to mandated access closings along Highway 55.

Because these remarks were made during the public comment portion of the meeting, the council did not respond to, or take action regarding, the bid to delay city water connections at the North America Mall and adjoining vacant property.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Greenfield City Council is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 17, at 6390 Town Hall Drive.