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Following a May 28 report to Saugeen Shores Council stating that the Port Elgin Main Beach business, The Station, which consists of a mini-golf course, a confectionary and a beloved 1836 American Steam Engine replica, was likely to be put up for sale by owners Andy and Debbie Hess, social media and beachfront activists have been voicing their concerns about the proposed 5 year draft lease.

See: The Station lease renewal unlikely

See: A reader responds to the train and station

The new lease was presented to the Hesses by landowners, the Town of Saugeen Shores and during the June 11 Saugeen Shores Committee of Whole, three Saugeen Shores citizens took advantage of the Open Forum to make their plea to Council prior to John Mann presenting a delegation on the same subject.

The Town of Saugeen Shores and Saugeen Shores Council are singing the same tune they were last year. They want the train to stay and they want to work the Hesses about maintaining the popular Port Elgin beachfront attraction for years to come.

See: The Town says they want the train so why a rally to save it

In a June 12 interview, Saugeen Shores CAO David Smith suggested to those looking for answers to read corporate reports online and to keep a critical eye on what is being reported on social media. “The Town values the train, we’re consistent on that, we’ve communicated that to Andy and we hope that Andy will meet us to further the negations.”

Smith indicated that the Hesses had only met face-to-face with Town Staff two or three times briefly in the past 18 months and said that the proposed lease was presented to Andy clearly as a first draft. “We encouraged and welcomed him to ask us questions or make comments on it,” he said.

New additions to proposed draft lease include:

1. The Tenant will be responsible for the legal costs of creating and maintaining the lease;

2. The Tenant, who is the owner of the track, will be responsible for the cost associated with the maintenance of it;

3. After a joint site tour, where items were noted such as broken light standards, retaining walls in disrepair, fencing in disrepair, crumbling and loose concrete etc. a capital plan was developed and proposed by the Tenant to bring the property up to minimum standards. Going forward a rolling capital plan was recommended; and

4. The Town requested a first right of refusal if the Hesses sold the business. This would not impede the sale in any way.

Many people have expressed concern with clauses that are in the renewal section of the lease. “The renewal portion kicks in after the term of five years, so that the proposed lease was a five-year term as Andy asked for,” said Smith. “Last time when the five years ran out there was some concerns expressed by Andy and his lawyer about the period of time after the contract expires until a new one is agreed to,” he added.

“The new proposed contract has more description about what would happen during that period after the five years if a new contract hadn't been signed,” Smith said.

The draft lease can be found here.

In the lease the Town of Saugeen Shores requested for first right of refusal. In other words, if the owners are selling the building the Town wants to option to buy it. “If someone offers [the owners] a legitimate offer, he would show it to us and we would have the ability to match that offer,” explained Smith. “It’s not for less than what he would get.”

The final page of the draft lease sees a Capital Plan for 2018 which Smith said was added with cooperation with the Hesses. The plan lists painting the building, keeping it in good repair, removal of barbed wire from the top of fencing, plan to replace fencing overtime, keep the patio area in good repair, replacing furniture as needed and making good any repairs on the track, however caused.

“The Hesses have been clear to me they need to do some investment down there,” said Smith, adding to the owners’ credit that they didn’t complete those task in years past because they didn't have a long lease. Smith said that the list is not an overly “onerous investment” if they were to sign a new five year lease.

Another areas of the lease that has spiked interest includes a proposed termination clause. “The proposed termination clause is the same for both parties and we would certainly consider the same termination clause as the old lease as it binds both parties the same way. Three months instead of six months was a starting point,” Smith said.

When asked about the Waterfront Master Plan, which suggests moving the train location to another part of the waterfront/harbour in the next 20 years, Smith said that it is a “visionary document”.

“It does suggest calling for relocation of the building and a 20 year visionary plan calls for a lot of things,” he explained. “That is something that may or may not happen.” In the same document, a splash pad is located on the beachfront adjacent the public restrooms while in 2017 a splash pad was placed in North Shore Park.

In reference to the current Station location, Smith then addressed rumours of other investments and “backhanded deals”, rumours of which have been spreading around the community and on social media. Smith said the Town has never received any request to build condos on the site however said the Town did receive a unsolicited proposal for that property.

“There was some short discussion on it and we’ve never talked about it since so in 18 months we’ve never discussed that further,” he said. “I put my efforts in trying to negotiate a lease with Andy,” he added.

During the June 11 Committee of Whole John Mann stepped in front of Council for his delegation regarding the train and Station and insisted that the Town had bullied Station owners. Mann didn't read his delegation, which is available on the Town of Saugeen Shores website, but did come prepared with emailed correspondence between the Hesses and David Smith.

Mann took issue that he received these emails too late and was unhappy that “procedural rules” would not allow them to be added to his delegation. Mann said the new lease of 14 pages is “unconscionable” and read an excerpt from David Smith to Andy Hess listing multiple ideas for possible dealings with The Station.

The isolated idea was read by Mann, who did not provide context beyond the quote, and said, “The Town will consider buying the building without the train and you would be free to take or sell the train as you wish.” Mann then told that crowd that he believes it meant “take it away, get rid of it.”

Mann told councillors that he was upset that the Hesses would then have to provide a list of capital improvements to be done to the property (previously listed above), and feared that if the Town has a different vision then at any time “they could terminate the lease.” Mann later added, “The Town’s vision is to have a liquor license on the beach and the restaurant from last year’s fiasco we went through.”

Mann then read an exchange from March 2018. This portion of the email was from the Hesses to David Smith.

“For the next five years for our business to be a success, tourism at the beach to be a success, and for the Town to have the train operational is the number one priority for all parties. We will move ahead to the very near future of Summer 2018.” Mann said that instead of a lease they should get a handshake, not a five year lease “that no one in the world will sign.”

When it came time for questions Councillor Mike Myatt wanted to go on record saying he is a supporter of train staying in Saugeen Shores and asked Mayor Mike Smith if the Hesses had ever made changes to the draft agreement presented to them by the Town. “Was there a discussion of what I'm not happy about, can we take this out, can we leave it in, can we modify it,” asked Myatt.

Mayor Smith answered Myatt’s question by saying, “That lease was sent to him with the offer that we were fully open to discuss any item on that.” He later added that Andy Hess did not return with a reply for changes to the draft agreement.

Mann interrupted the opportunity for Council to continue to ask questions and was granted another chance to speak, at which time he reiterated his feelings about not being permitted to include the emails in his delegation.

“John you made that point many many times so I'm going to ask you to take your seat,” said the Mayor.

Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau began to ask a question when the Mayor stopped him to address Mann, asking him to sit down once more. Mann then took issue with outgoing Councillor Neil Menage who had had words with a speaker during the Open Forum.

“John, this is not a part of your presentation,” said the Mayor, asking Mann again to take a seat. A ten minute recess was then called.

Following the meeting Mayor Mike Smith told media, “Like we said all along we’re open to discussing anything with Andy [Hess]. We’ve sent him a lease and if he has any issues with it by all means contact us,” he said.

“Some of the statements made here about us not wanting the train are completely false. We want this thing to work for everybody,” he said, adding that there is still plenty of time to come to an agreement.

john mann

Saugeen Shores resident John Mann during his delegation to Saugeen Shores Council June 11. 

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