This graphic shows the proposed hotel occupying the red-shaded area. Blue would be the new space for Mahan Park. (Graphic provided)

Should Allegan's Mahan Park move for hotel?

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

Allegan voters will decide in March whether Mahan Park can be reorganized to accommodate a new design for a proposed hotel at 101 Brady St.

The plans call for a shorter building than the originally conceived five stories, but it now would stretch over the park’s terraced amphitheater. The plan swaps roughly a third of an acre each between the park and the hotel, moves the gazebo next to the historic iron bridge and recreates the terraces there.

Allegan Mayor Traci Perrigo said the new design allows for underground parking beneath the lengthier hotel.

“It looks like it flows better,” she said. “And they would get their rooftop dining area elongated.”

Council members voted unanimously at their Monday, Dec. 9, meeting to put the proposal before voters on the March 10 ballot. It will ask the question, “Shall the City of Allegan be authorized to sell up to 0.33 acres of land in Mahan Park for development as a hotel, as part of a transaction in which at least 0.38 acres of new park land are added to Mahan Park?” The sold land would come from parts of 115, 125 and 131 Brady St.

The city’s efforts to develop its Brady lot have been ongoing for years. Most recently, it contracted with CL Real Estate of Peru, Ill., nine months ago to exclusively conduct a marketing study and an environmental study. Company representatives presented their plan at council’s Nov. 25 meeting, noting the changes were a more efficient use of the space.

 

Public decides

Allegan’s city charter dictates that public votes decide whether or not any park land may be sold. Any March ballot proposal language is due at the county clerk’s office by Dec. 17.

Council member Teresa Galloway noted a six-space parking lot would be added to the reorganized Mahan Park.

“I feel like it’s misleading to say the park will be 0.66 acres, because there will be a parking lot,” she said.

City manager Joel Dye said it was common city practice to include parking areas in acreage for other city parks.

Mayor Pro-Tem Delora Andrus said the design would not occur if voters turned down the proposal, since CL Real Estate is no longer interested in building solely at 101 Brady St.

“But if it’s a ‘yes’ vote, it’s still not a done deal, yes?” she asked. Dye agreed; council members would still need to authorize a purchase agreement.

To that end, council also extended the contract with CL Real Estate until April 30, to provide 45 days to work out any purchase agreement if the proposal passes.

 

History

Several in the public spoke out against the plan, citing the park’s historic significance.

The plaque marking the site explains the park and gazebo were created to honor James E. Mahan, a doctor who served the community between 1931 and 1978 and helped establish both the local health department and the city’s hospital. “To the detriment of his own health, Dr. Mahan almost single-handedly provided medical care for Allegan and the surrounding area during the war years of 1941-45... At the time of his retirement it was estimated that he had presided at the birth of nearly half the population of the city... Dr. Mahan did not suffer fools—or hypochondriacs—gladly, but he did make house calls.”

Joan Simmons said moving the gazebo and rearranging the park was irreverent and disrespectful.

“I just don’t want to see our town wiped off the face of the map,” Simmons said, noting the spot had hosted many concerts and events through the years. “People have enjoyed it so much. People look forward to it. It’s one little spot seniors can go and feel comfortable.”

Allegan Rotary Club member Larry Ladenburger said he and the club had organized Good Times at the Gazebo for 33 years.

“That’s 30 years of chicken barbeques down there. That’s a significant amount of history,” Ladenburger said.

Resident Jason Watts, who once owned 101 Brady St., said the change in plans reflected poorly on the developer.

“CL Real Estate knew what they were getting. 101 Brady St. had its boundaries,” Watts said. “Any good developer should know how to work within boundaries. They have yet to prove they can develop a hotel. The (project) in Illinois is going nowhere. And my sources in Hillsdale say that project is on tenterhooks.”

He also urged council members to discuss the issue further before hurrying to get it on the ballot.

“This can wait until August,” he said. “I just don’t see that this swap makes sense with this developer. Maybe we have to open up the process (of selecting a developer) again. I just don’t see the urgency.”

Resident Joan Townsend said her mother was one of the many names on the donor plaques on display at the park.

“This is history—my history, a lot of people’s history,” Townsend said. “I don’t want it moved down there by the bridge. This hotel, I don’t see who it’s going to benefit exactly. It’s disturbing. I don’t want it. Hopefully council listens to this community.”

Council member Rachel McKenzie said their vote Monday night did not approve the project.

“This is a resolution to allow ballot language for the residents of Allegan to vote on this matter, not council,” McKenzie said. If voters approve the sale, she said council will decide which company will handle the work and the historic district will help determine what can be done. “This is overall, I think from the last several months, what people have always wanted—to have a decision about what council was doing with land.”

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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