MONDAY, April 22 — Waterfront Bar & Grill is expected to leave the Lansing City Market before summer after a state court rejected its attempt to secure a lease and handed the riverside venue back into the hands of city officials.
And Lansing Mayor Andy Schor is already looking to lease out the space to another business. He hopes to bring a new tenant into the building by May 31.
“We don’t have anything signed with anybody, but we’ve explored some ideas. It could be great for a variety of different uses and we’re assessing those options,” Schor said.
Judges at the Michigan Court of Appeals last week rejected an appeal from Waterfront as it clinged to life inside the largely empty, city-owned marketplace along the Grand River. Schor’s plans to repurpose the market last year were cut short after the city tried to evict Waterfront and its owner, Scott Simmons, pushed back in court. The ruling ultimately hinged on a series of dated lease violations.
Barring an unlikely appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, Waterfront will need to vacate the marketplace by the end of May, the court ruled. At that point, the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority will hand over management of the property to the city, Schor said.
“Whatever that replacement — no matter who comes in — they’ll need to do some rehabilitation and do something with the building and that space,” Schor added. “It would be a lease with the city at this point, because we can’t sell the property. That area is really going to start to see a lot of improvements in the next year.”
Schor hasn’t announced plans for the market space, but John Burtka, the owner of Grand River Brewery in Jackson, has long voiced a desire to come to Lansing. In an interview in February, Burtka strongly hinted at an announcement that would include plans at the Lansing City Market.
The city was still searching for and reviewing additional proposals last week, Schor repeatedly emphasized.
Attorneys for LEPFA — amid a trove of legal briefings — previously labeled Waterfront’s appeal as nothing more than a “thinly veiled attempt” to extend its expired lease well beyond its agreed terms. It alleged that Simmons took an “ambush approach” to delay enforcement of the contract, according to filings from LEPFA.
Simmons previously argued for an ability to unilaterally extend the lease with LEFPA regardless of the city’s plans to find another use for the space. Company executive Patrice Drainville said Simmons is exploring the possibility of another appeal after the city leaned on years-old lease violations to justify the eviction.
“The reason they wanted us out was because they had other plans but the ruling was all about the old violations that every restaurant owner in the city has dealt with,” Drainville added. “We’re currently exploring our options. We’re still hoping the city might be able to work with us.”
Schor solicited proposals last year that could eventually allow a developer (or another bar owner) to help breathe new entrepreneurial life into the virtually moribund riverside marketplace.
But that doesn’t mean Waterfront would disappear altogether.
Simmons recently sought to move his company’s liquor license to a more secluded location at 419 Spring St. in REO Town. The appeal essentially bought him time — and kept revenue flowing — while state officials reviewed the application, appeals attorney Liisa Speaker previously explained in an interview with City Pulse.
Drainville said those plans have been paused as Simmons works to obtain a new liquor license at his new location. Waterfront’s existing license cannot legally be transferred outside of a downtown development district like the City Market.
“I’m looking forward to resolution and moving forward,” explained LEPFA President and CEO Scott Keith. “This allows the city an opportunity to redevelop the property and with the construction at Rotary Park, I’m excited to see something new to energize and activate another part of our entertainment atmosphere in the city.”
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage at the Lansing City Market.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include comments from Patrice Drainville.