2 more businesses acquired

Published 1:46 pm Saturday, July 26, 2008

Yaggy Colby has sealed two more deals with downtown business owners uprooted by jail and justice center plans.

Showgirls Saloon on First Street Northeast and Farmers Insurance Group on Fourth Avenue Northeast both signed dotted lines this week — Showgirls on Friday and Farmers on Wednesday.

“And I think we’re really close on two others,” Yaggy Colby firm associate Brad King said.

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That makes three for the city, which already closed with Thirsty’s Bar on First Street for about $200,000 — the bar will permanently shut its doors following a public farewell party Aug. 2.

Showgirls closed for $295,000; Farmers Insurance for $157,000.

Farmers Insurance owner Dave Thompson, whose been in business at the downtown location for 21 years, said he took the offer because he felt that it was likely the best he could get without entering into court mediation with the city.

“We can always wonder if it was right, but at some point you have to realize that you’ve negotiated about as far as you can,” he said. “Again, I felt that I went about as high as I could go without taking that direction.”

Thompson said it’s unlikely he’ll retire, though he hasn’t landed a new location for this insurance agency.

“…to be determined,” he said.

Showgirls owners Jeff and Laura Dewitz could not be reached for comment.

The deals come the same day that attorney Steve Hovey, who is legal counsel for the city in the acquisition process, mailed letters to 30-40 businesses owners and residential tenants announcing the process will enter the courts.

“I’d hope (they’d be served) by the end of next week,” he said.

Hovey said a first court date won’t likely take place until early November, when a judge will determine whether the jail and justice center is a public necessity and appoint three appraisers to review the remaining properties.

The court proceeding will also allow the city to retain titles and possession of those who haven’t closed on offers. They will be advanced the appraisal offer, which may be supplemented by whatever the court decides.

He said that Yaggy Colby can still continue with negotiations until the hearing date occurs.

“There’s nothing stopping us from continuing to negotiate,” he said.

Several businesses still remain, including Steve’s Pizza, Culligan Water, Beltone Hearing and Anytime Fitness. A printing business and dance club also rent space in a Third Street Northeast apartment building.

Culligan’s general manager Noah Hawkes said the store is still investigating its options, one of which is rumored to be a merger with its Albert Lea branch, according to council member at-large Pete Christopherson.

“Nothing’s been set in stone,” Hawkes said. “We definitely have a good relationship with the city, and that’s the most important thing right now.”

Culligan owner Dan Driessen could not be reached for comment.

Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm also said Monday that county commissioners still may forgo demolition of Anytime Fitness, located at the corner of First Street and Fourth Avenue Northeast, until it moves forward with expansion plans once the jail is built.

The city would still acquire the property, he said, adding that the fitness center may be allowed to lease it in the interim.

County coordinator Craig Oscarson could not be reached for comment.

The city has about $4.5 million budgeted for acquisition, demolition and site preparation for the two square blocks slated for the $32 million project. It’s hoped that the city have the site ready for construction by Dec. 31.