Grocery contract in the making



June 24, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Iola Councilman Jonathan Wells applauded Allen County commissioners Tuesday for their efforts to attract a grocery store — namely G&W Foods — to Iola.
While prefacing comments by saying he wasn’t speaking for Iola or its council, Wells said, “As a councilman I will put all my political capital behind it,” because Iola “really, really needs a grocery” and “I really like the G&W plan.”
Wells bounced into the commission meeting during a lull, which came about while commissioners were awaiting Arlyn Briggs and his attorney, Chuck Apt, to arrive and comment, apparently on Briggs’ efforts to purchase the old Allen County Hospital for conversion to a health care facility.
Briggs had made an appointment for 8:30. About then Clerk Sherrie Riebel received a call from Briggs, who said he was unable to be at the courthouse by that time, and, prophetically, “I may not make it all.” He didn’t.
Commissioners weren’t sure what bone Briggs had to pick, but it likely was commissioners’ decision to support attraction of G&W Foods to Iola. Briggs had been given until June 1 to submit financial and business plans for uses he proposed for the old hospital. On May 28, at a special meeting he requested, Briggs withdrew his proposal. Then, on June 2, Apt pleaded with commissioners to permit Briggs back into the game, saying he had in hand $157,000 to buy the old hospital.
Since then commissioners have decided to move ahead with G&W, to the point on June 16 Commissioner Jerry Daniels said “that ship has sailed,” in reference to the county’s embrace of the grocer.
The county has no concrete tie to G&W, but that will change shortly. County Counselor Alan Weber told commissioners he was developing a contract to set out terms of G&W’s purchase of a parcel of land on the old ACH site, once the structure was razed.
Financial terms are for G&W to pay $29,000 for the portion of the property on which it would build a store. The remainder, including parking lots to the east, will be made available otherwise; development of apartment buildings has been prominently mentioned. Iola Industries has expressed keen interest in facilitating the apartments, to the point of purchasing land when it becomes available.
Briggs’ has been the most visible of competing proposals of the site, but not the only one. Weber pointed out he had shown the old hospital several times and a week ago Iolan Tom Wheat suggested the site’s use for social services on the order of a YMCA or Salvation Army facility.
Iola Administrator Carl Slaugh repeated comments he made to Iola councilmen Monday night, that he was unsure whether a traffic study to determine accessibility of the site to U.S. 54 and nearby streets was the city’s responsibility. Rather, he said, it might be appropriate for a study to be done on the developer’s nickel.
However, Slaugh trumpeted there was much support in Iola for a grocery — “Everyone is excited about it, and apartments would be nice, too.”
Weber said representatives of demolition companies considering bids to raze the old hospital would meet Thursday morning to review terms and tour the building. Bids are due by July 6. He added a date for an auction to dispose of what’s left in the old hospital had yet to be set.