When the books are closed on summer 2013, Michael Sutherland will have written a check to the City of Traverse City for more than $21,000 – and he’ll be “delighted” to do it.
Sutherland owns and operates The River, the centerpiece of TC’s newly revamped Clinch Park, where visitors rented bikes, kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards, and could grab burgers, brats, or snacks. He pays the city 15 percent of his gross sales.
Sutherland just completed his fourth year, though this past summer was like no other, given the all-new buildings, landscaping, and splash pad.
But despite a record-setting sales year and a contract with the city in-hand, Sutherland still doesn’t know if he and The River will be back for 2014.
“We have a three-year contract that just began this year,” Sutherland explains, “but the language says the city can open it up or cancel it every year. I’d like to really reinvest in the business, but I have to admit it’s hard feeling like you can get kicked out anytime.”
The actual agreement states that the “term may subsequently be renewed for two one-year terms, the final term ending at the end of the season in September 2015. Renewal of the agreement for the 2014 and 2015 seasons may be authorized by the City Manager by a letter of agreement prior to the beginning of each respective season."
City officials say the contract is typical of vendor agreements, giving the city flexibility each year. The Bijou by the Bay, for instance, has a ten-year contract to operate as a community based, art house movie theatre for $1 each year -- with a meeting "with the City annually to review the past year and discuss future plans," confirms Traverse City Film Festival Executive Director Deb Lake.
Brian Haas, who serves as Chair of the Parks & Recreation Commission, says he supports the return of The River, citing Sutherland’s expanded offerings, strong staff, and results, “despite being handed the keys to the new park facilities the day before Cherry Festival started.”
But Haas doesn’t guarantee a return, citing “significant communication problems in the management from the City's side. Staff says there is a list of issues to be addressed first, but those concerns haven't been communicated to Mike, nor have they been communicated to the Parks and Recreation Commission despite our request.”
The city’s Parks & Recreation Supervisor Lauren Vaughn, who leads the staff’s contact with Sutherland, says he is not aware of any issues.
“I would imagine [he will return]. I know he’s interested, and as far as I know the city is interested,” he tells The Ticker. “We’ll be having conversations. With a new building there were a lot of unknowns, and there will be a few things that will likely have to be tweaked.”
Vaughn adds that he’s “not the person who will be making those decisions. It will likely be the city attorney or city manager who will likely make a recommendation to the Commission.”
For his part, Sutherland says the new Clinch Park made for a hugely successful summer.
“It was night and day; how the city built the beach and the TART Trail right through the park, the new buildings, the landscaping…the experience was incredible. People should be proud, because I cannot believe the rave reviews we got all summer.”
He adds that the most popular rentals were standup paddleboards, and that the Film Festival brought his biggest sales days.
There’s talk of introducing alcohol to portions of the park – local beers and wines sold during limited days and hours – but Sutherland and Vaughn agree there’s much to be discussed before that could happen.
Still, Sutherland hopes for a bigger and better season on the beach in 2014, adding, “I’d like my rent to be $50,000-$75,000 a year!”