City Council Recap: More Showboat Discussion

The Lowell Showboat was the main topic of discussion at last night’s city council meeting. All councilmembers were present for the meeting which ran for 50 minutes and was held at Creekside Park. Other items on the agenda included the approval of an easement request from Lowell Light & Power and the acceptance of CARES Act money from Kent County.

Showboat Income Potential Questioned

With construction of the sixth incarnation of the Lowell Showboat currently underway, Lowell City Council has turned its attention to the boat’s future management. The boat is being built with a mix of grants and private funds, but it will be owned by the city once complete. One goal for the new Showboat is that it will generate revenue as an event venue.

However, information provided by City Manager Mike Burns at last night’s meeting cast doubt on that prospect. Burns reached out to communities such as Grand Rapids, Hudsonville, Port Huron and Muskegon which all have publicly owned venues. “With the exception of the Van Andel Arena and Devos Place, none of them make money,” Burns said.

That didn’t necessarily mean the venues weren’t beneficial though. Burns pointed to Muskegon as an example. The municipality owns the Mercy Health Arena, which was formerly known as the L.C. Walker Arena. “Their view is that while the L.C. doesn’t make money, the businesses around it do,” Burns said.

The biggest hurdle to making money with the Lowell Showboat will be its depreciation costs. “This is a $3.4 million asset so, in theory, it depreciates $68,000 a year,” Burns explained. To prepare for future costs associated with the maintenance or replacement of the boat, that depreciation amount should be set aside in savings each year. However, under most scenarios reviewed during the meeting, doing so would eat up any profit the boat could earn.

“Now we could be all wrong, and it could make money,” Burns said. Raising rental rates or reducing the amount of money reinvested for depreciation were two options mentioned to make the boat profitable.

No members of the Showboat Committee were present at the meeting, and councilmembers decided it would be best to hold a future meeting with them before making any decisions about rental pricing and who will manage the boat.

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COVID Issues: CARES Act and Executive Orders

Two issues discussed during the meeting were directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, Burns noted that the city was in line to receive $130,529.14 in CARES Act money from Kent County. The money must be spent by November 15, and Burns proposed using it to reimburse payroll expenses for the Lowell Police Department for July, August and September. Councilmembers unanimously approved the move.

Mayor Mike DeVore asked if Burns had a plan for the approximately $130,000 that would be saved on payroll. The city manager suggested splitting the funds between the city’s pension fund and an upcoming fire truck purchase.

Later, in his city manager’s report, Burns said he was working to clarify the impact of the recent Supreme Court ruling which struck down Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus-related executive orders. He noted that the city had been conducting meetings via Zoom which was allowed under the executive orders. “Now, the question is, can we still do them?” Burns said.

Water shutoffs were also prohibited by executive order and can theoretically resume now. “We have a few people who aren’t paying and when we reach out to them, they don’t respond,” Burns said. However, he did not make a specific recommendation on the matter.

Other Meeting Discussion

In other action, Lowell City Council unanimously approved an easement agreement between Lowell Light & Power and a resident on Pratt Lake Avenue. The easement will allow the utility to place some electrical lines underground.

During councilmember comments at the end of the meeting, Councilmember Marty Chambers thanked those who assisted with the Pink Arrow Drive-In event. In his comments, DeVore noted that Chambers was instrumental in making the event happen.

DeVore also shared that Shannon Witherell was named the interim fire chief for the Lowell Area Fire Department. The fire authority also changed their meeting time from Monday afternoons to the second Thursday of the month at 7pm to make it easier for those working during the day to attend.

The next meeting of Lowell City Council is Monday, October 19, at 7pm. The location has not been announced yet.

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