City Council reviews government's debt, revisits possibility of new bistro

At Tuesday’s loaded work session, councilmembers reviewed findings of an audit on city finances for the 2012 fiscal year which ended in June, and found the city’s debt is on the decline.

The audit examined not only city debt, but general fund, sewer system, water system and parking revenues and expenditures for the 2012 fiscal year as well.

At the meeting, Joe Heffernan of Plante Moran, an East Lansing-based audit firm, said he found the city’s debt is decreasing.

“Over last 10 years, the amount of debt has been in steady decline (in the city),” Heffernan said. “The vast majority of debt we have is in situations where repayment source is quite solid.”

The council also reviewed more information regarding the Black Cat Bistro, a new restaurant looking to move in next door to Menna’s Joint on Albert Ave.

The restaurant is looking to get a Class C liquor license, but falling into the category of “fine dining” is instrumental in their approval for the license from the Downtown Development Authority.

Although the restaurant owners have said they want to bring a fine dining element to downtown East Lansing, councilmembers expressed concerns about this claim.

“We can’t necessarily rest comfortably,” Councilmember Kevin Beard said. “Should something change, a different menu or business plan (could) be followed in the establishment.”

Community and Economic Development Administrator Lori Mullins said the restaurant’s classification as a fine dining establishment lies heavily in how late they are open, as well as how many people the restaurant will seat, and what type of entertainment they will provide.

“It would have to be a restaurant that closes by midnight (in order to be classified as fine dining),” Mullins said. “Troppo closes by midnight, Knight Cap closes by 11 p.m. …. Omi Sushi does a nice job, and closes by 10 p.m. … There’s something about closing time that correlates to (fine dining).”

Councilmembers also requested further discussion at next week’s meeting regarding the application for a special use permit by Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, which is the last step the distillery needs before they can begin operation, Planning and Zoning administrator Darcy Schmitt said.

The distillery, which will be located at 2000 Merritt Rd., has been approved by council for distilling and selling spirits only, and the establishment will offer customers a tasting room.

Staff writer Michael Koury contributed to this report

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