TRAVERSE CITY — The first season of Bijou by the Bay after the state shut down movie theaters and other venues amid a COVID-19 outbreak didn’t go as city leaders had hoped.
The movie theater is located inside the former Con Foster Museum in Traverse City’s Clinch Park. When the commissioners renewed the Traverse City Film Festival’s lease in August 2021 and extended it through 2033, they approved two conditions: reopen the theater by December 31, 2021, and stay open at least 200 days a year.
That didn’t happen. The theater was open for about 121 days in 2022, according to an annual report from the film festival’s board of directors.
While the film festival board hopes for better attendance and more days open, enough to meet the contract, Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe said she wants to discuss what the city does when one of its tenants fails to meet all the terms of the contract. lease.
That’s on the city commission agenda Tuesday.
Shamroe said it’s the first time in his seven years in city government that he can remember a tenant on city property breaking their agreement.
“I didn’t bring this up with any specific outcome in mind by any means, but I’m very curious about how this is handled and how we handle it,” he said.
Shamroe, who voted against the lease extension, said she was puzzled to see the theater open briefly, then close again, then reopen later in 2022. Commissioners agreed to renew the lease a few years early because the organization from the film festival wanted to install an improved room. ventilation system to reduce the risk of spreading COVID.
“I understand that staffing issues are staffing issues everywhere, but downtown restaurants are not required by contract to be open X days or available to the public,” he said.
For its part, the organization of the film festival demands overwhelming force — a provision in a contract that releases both parties from obligations if an extraordinary event prevents one or both parties from performing, according to Cornell Law School’s Institute for Legal Information.
Messages were left Saturday with Michael Moore, the film festival’s founder and president.
In its annual report, the organization noted an ongoing public health emergency, with low in-person attendance at movie theaters, restaurants, churches and more after pandemic closures were lifted.
“But lately things seem to be looking up,” the report said. “TCFF schedules the Bijou weekly, offering a wide selection of first-run and classic films, including free admission on certain weekends.”
Attendance numbers are nearing 2019 per-show levels, and the organization indicates it expects the theater to be open at least 200 days in 2023, according to the report.
Shamroe said that’s what the commissioners heard in August 2019. He said they’re not looking for a court fight and the city shouldn’t be “heavy-handed” with their properties. But he added that they didn’t want to let the annual report pass without discussing it, including how city commissioners are kept informed about such matters.
The film festival organization has repeatedly pointed to the major renovations it completed in 2013 to what had been a closed and dilapidated building.
If the organization continues to break its lease, another organization may want the opportunity to lease the building, Shamroe said.
In other business Tuesday, city commissioners will consider a land swap and the sale of a city parking lot for a housing project.
A proposed transaction would sell Lot O at the corner of State and Cass streets to HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing, which plans to convert the lot into a four-story building with affordable housing and commercial space.
Commissioners previously asked to delay a vote on the purchase agreement because the final draft of the contract was not complete. Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe said she’s ready to discuss the deal now that she’s back on the board and thinks the project is good overall.
Neighboring property and business owners previously told city leaders they wanted to retain some of the access Lot O provided, but negotiations fell silent. HomeStretch CEO Jon Stimson previously said an initial concept provided such access, but the Downtown Development Authority has requested to remove a driveway on State Street. The commissioners postponed deciding how to handle the problem until after the contract was completed.
Another agreement will formalize the financing of a land exchange approved by the city commissioners on January 3. They agreed to purchase land along State Street near Pine Street from Socks Construction Company for $6,599,340, with Socks Construction to purchase an adjacent municipal parking lot for $4,913,625.
This is land that could become the site of a long-planned third parking lot, city officials said, and would be a more practical building site than the land Socks Construction will buy, as previously reported.
Shamroe said he agreed the purchase makes more sense than previous parking plans that would have spanned an alley. He also agreed that the rising costs of the project are a concern.
That’s a risk when people pressure city leaders not to rush, he said.
“I think it’s unfortunate that it costs so much, but I think it’s something we need to do, because in a city like ours, we should have a lot of parking and all that drainage and everything that goes into our river,” he said, adding. that a parking pad would be one way to reduce.