Time-line on finalizing long-term fair lease for park use reached

Dave Marner

Lawyers for the city of Owensville and Gasconade County Fair Association on Monday agreed they could finalize a long-term “legally binding lease agreement” for use of Memorial Park for the fair by year’s end.

What remains to be determined, however, is how much the fair association will pay to rent park grounds for possibly next 99 years. Leland B. Curtis, the city’s attorney, appears willing to accept a long-term lease agreement, at least for 50 years in five-year renewal increments. Aldermen in the closing minutes of the hour-long open meeting with Curtis, Amanda Grellner, the Fair Association’s attorney, and 10 members of the association, came to a consensus that a 99-year lease was amicable to both the city and the association.

This past summer, Curtis told aldermen during a meeting with Park Board members he did not favor a 50-year lease agreement which was proposed back in the summer of 2016. That proposal included 10-year renewal increments with step-up increases in lease payments every 10 years.

The most recent agreement paid the park system $6,500 annually for use of the park during the fair. The fair operated on a one-year extension this past summer and plans are being addressed for another year’s extension to cover the 2018 fair.

Curtis expressed concern early in the meeting about binding future city boards to such a long-term lease. Curtis and Grellner both expressed desires to have the contract include language covering market value and liquid damages for new and existing building should either party back out of the lease.

Mayor John Kamler suggested the city might be interested in partnering with the Fair Association in a “business relationship” to help construct a planned community center. Curtis said he believed a long-term lease would cover that kind of an agreement if increments were used.

“I think future boards will look back and say ‘thank you for at least not attempting to  bind us,’” Curtis told them. And, he added, “you’re respecting the authority of future boards.”

Grellner suggested her clients wanted a long-term agreement to protect their investment in a new building project. She asked for consideration of a possible $1 annual lease.

Kamler noted how he put a committee together to develop a new long-term lease agreement and has been working on this for three year. He noted how there has been some “friction” along the way with the Park Board.

“Finally, I think got people to realize that the ultimate decision is sitting right here,” said Kamler. “That’s the final decision. And, some people may not like it, but, as I’ve told everybody, I’ve been accused of being ‘too pro fair board.’ I’m pro city. I’m pro 27-hundred and 70 people in this town. I realize that every time I walk through the door. And so, I won’t look at it ‘is it best for this group?’ I‘ve got to look at the whole picture. The way I look at it, this fair’s one of the best things we have in our county. In the state. It brings a lot of revenue.”

He cited the financial impact on 4-H kids selling livestock over the past 70 years. Unknown was how many youth funded their college educations selling their projects at the fair, he said. 

“I’m proud to have our fair here,” the mayor continued. “I hope it stays here forever. I’ve already been on record, I’ll go on record again, my feeling is if we’re going to have a community center, the city needs to have to skin in the game. We’ve need to partner. Put some money up. We’ve got money. It’s just how we get there.”

Rob Borgmann, a Ward 2 alderman and president of the board, received a consensus opinion when he asked about a 99-year lease with renewals on the five-year increments Curtis sought.

“But, I’ll tell, I’ll put it out there, we’ve got to figure out the dollar amount,” said Kamler. “I’m not in agreement with 65-hundred (dollars) when the school is okay to donate a thousand and they use it way more in a year than the fair does. My point is we’ve got to do it fair for everybody, down the road.”

Kamler noted the park fund ended 2016-17 with a surplus that he credited, in part, to oversight by the Board of Aldermen.

“I can see things down the road are going to be good,” Kamler continued. “The thing was, they needed that 65-hundred, and I don’t think they do. I think it’s going to come other ways. That’s just my opinion. To me, if it’s fair for the school to pay a thousand then the fair should pay a thousand. Or whatever we come to.”

“It will come other ways,” said Borgmann.

“We’re dealing with donations versus contracts,” said Cathy Lahmeyer of Ward 1 and the appointed ex-officio member to the Park Board. “Those are two different…two different things. And that’s what I was speaking to about putting a sustainable process in place.”

“When it’s coming down to an actual lease, it’s got to be fair, wouldn’t you agree, across the board, you and Lee?” Kamler asked Grellner and Curtis.

“Equitable,” said Grellener. “But again, I mean I feel like that there are organizations who are contributing to the property and organizations who are using the property.”

Fair Association members had noted earlier some of the improvements, like water and sewer line installations around the park, as contributions to development of the grounds. 

“They are not one in the same,” Grellner continued. “I mean, I understand that pretty much, probably 95 percent of those that use your facilities there, are non-profits. So I understand that. But some are bringing money with them, others are using.”

She went on to note, “equitable is not always equal. Not every organization brings the same thing to the plate.”

Kamler said he had spoken with school officials about his concerns and that they understood.

Curtis explained he and Grellner sought a “legally binding lease agreement” which would, although he called it a “potentially gray area,” withstand any future legal challenge by having five-year increments.

“I think having a legal, a legally binding lease is advantageous to the Fair Association because when we put these things in, we (the city) want to be able to enforce them, whether its liquidated damages or anything else in there. It’s mutually beneficial that, we both, both parties have a legal-biding, a lease agreement that is not, later, thrown out by the courts. Then where are the parties when it’s thrown out?”

Grellner and Curtis agreed they should be able to finalize the lease by the end of the year. “And, again, I’ll make sure we have a Park Board member or two involved,” said Kamler.

“I’d kind of like to have them sign off on it before we vote,” said Ward 2 Alderman Karl Buck near the end of the hour-long meeting.

Earlier in the meeting and responding to a question from Rob Borgmann, a Ward 2 Alderman and board president, Curtis told aldermen that, “in his opinion,” the “Park Board has no legal status” to enter into contracts. That would be the responsibility of the Board of Aldermen. 

 “Again, I’m not opposed to having them having a signature on the lease too,” said Kamler.

“That’s the way it’s been in the past and I would think that’s a good way to go forward,” said Curtis.

Aldermen made no motions but Curtis said “I think you’re okay, right now. You’ve given direction. We’ll come back.”