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THURSDAY, Aug. 16 — A judge’s refusal to halt ongoing plans to boot one of the last remaining tenants from Lansing City Market opens the door for eviction proceedings to continue against Waterfront Bar & Grill.
Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk shot down yesterday bar owner Scott Simmons’ recent motion for preliminary injunction filed against the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority. LEPFA Attorney David Russell said the decision paves the way for eviction, which could begin anytime.
Russell — following the hearing — broke into boisterous laughter with attorneys from the City of Lansing and LEPFA President and CEO Scott Keith in the hallway. Patrice Drainville, vice president of Simmons’ company, and her lawyer left without answering questions. They also haven’t returned multiple phone calls.
“This was what we anticipated, and we look forward to going to the next step,” Russell added. Lansing Mayor Andy Schor announced plans earlier this year to close the City Market by the end of the summer, after the City Council cut the annual subsidy in half to $40,000.
He’s looking for proposals that would transform the space and allow the embattled facility to find a financially viable path forward into next year. And those plans won’t include subsidizing a bar and grill, he said.
“We’d like to maximize the entire market space,” Schor said earlier this week.
In May, after LEPFA had already moved to terminate the lease, Simmons sought to take advantage of a perceived option to renew the agreement for the next three years. His lawsuit contended LEPFA illegally refused to honor that option and asked a judge to prohibit further “interference” with his business operations.
Russell said the choice for a renewal was written into the lease but it didn’t create a mandate. Waterfront could be entitled to a three-year extension, but only if both parties consensually agreed to the decision. And they didn’t. Keith previously claimed his office never came to terms with Simmons regarding that particular section.
The amended paragraph that addressed the renewal was also never initialed by either party in the signed lease. “It doesn’t give the tenant the unilateral right to extend that option,” Russell explained in the courtroom.
Simmons’ attorney, Laura Eisele, argued that any attempts to evict the bar from the market would be done so illegally. She emphasized that Waterfront Bar & Grill would face “irreparable harm” should the lease be cut short, forcing the business to close and putting each of its 25 employees out of a job in the process.
Draganchuk said the option for a renewal was ambiguous at best, noting Eisele’s arguments could resurface as eviction proceedings continue. But the recent request that would have prevented LEPFA’s attempts to evict the bar would have ultimately impeded LEPFA’s ability to exercise its right as the landlord of the City Market.
“I cannot consider the mere fact of going into eviction proceedings to be irreparable harm,” she said.
Keith didn’t offer a timeline for when he plans to file for eviction but suggested a hearing could be coming soon. That will also give him a chance to address years of ordinance and rule violations that he contended gives LEPFA plenty of reasons to send Simmons and his bar packing regardless of the language written into the lease.
LEFPA claimed the bar tracked numerous health, noise, parking and liquor licensing violations, giving the city an “independent and separate” basis to terminate the lease. Simmons altered the space without permission and was once found to be “intoxicated” at the bar before he “allegedly committed assault and battery,” filings state.
Simmons, therefore, has “failed to comply with the requirements of the lease and the rules and regulations and has, instead, repeatedly breached the agreements and violated applicable laws and codes,” according to LEPFA.
Eisele said the newly introduced violations are simply a distraction crafted by the city to deflect her arguments. She claimed Simmons wasn’t notified about any potential breaches of the lease and none remain ongoing.
Waterfront was open on Wednesday, but officials said it was only doing so without a valid, written lease. Draganchuk said that agreement expired in July. LEPFA, however, is bound by state law to first obtain an court-issued eviction order before anyone can forcibly remove Simmons and his staff from the premises.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk's name.
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for previous and continued coverage at Lansing City Market.