May 23 • 11:10 AM

Imlay eyes new eatery

Entrepreneur dishes up idea to create 1920s-style restaurant at former P.D.

December 15, 2010
IMLAY CITY — If Michael Romine's dream is realized, downtown Imlay City will become home to a new family restaurant.

Romine approached city commissioners last Tuesday (Dec. 7) with a plan to renovate the city's former public safety building at 335 East Third Street. The plan is contingent on his being able to purchase the building from the city for $1.

A graduate of the Lapeer County Ed-Tech Center's culinary arts program, the young entrepreneur told commissioners he's already picked out a name for his eatery: The Palmer House. The name harkens back to the late Charles Palmer, one of Imlay City's most influential citizens in late 1800s.

Romine hopes to create a 1920s theme at the restaurant, using dark wood and various architectural treatments for ambience.

"We'd like to create an establishment with simple, timeless elegance, with good food and reasonable prices," said Romine. "I want to bring something new and different to the area.

"I want it to be a community place where people will come, feel comfortable and want to stay."

He said the restaurant would feature an open floor plan with windows across the front, a bar, private dining area and possibly a patio in the rear of the building. Additionally, Romine intends to provide internships at the restaurant for other Lapeer Ed-Tech culinary arts graduates.

"We'll take advantage of the availability of products and organic foods from local growers," said Romine. "We'll select our wines based on flavor, not on price. We want to offer basic simple, basic food service but in a finer atmosphere."

Imlay City Mayor Pro-tem Marty Rankin said he likes the idea, but sought assurances that the city would benefit after selling the property for just $1.

"Can we do this with a land lease that would sunset after 10 years to give the city a benefit?" Rankin asked. "That would allow us some control over what goes on there."

City Attorney Gary Howell said assurances should indeed be part of any agreement between Romine and the city. He suggested the property could be transferred to the Downtown Development Authority, which has broad power within the downtown district.

"The city is not interested in giving the building away and nothing happening," said Howell. "This is not complex. The city still has control over the DDA. If you go forward, the commission, the DDA and the developer would all need to be on the same page."

Commissioner Greg Dennis supported Romine's concept, adding that if the building is left empty for another three or four years, it could deteriorate rapidly and be of little interest to investors.

"I think it's a great idea," said Dennis. "There's a bit of a parking issue there, but I think it's a doable project."

Michael Romine (left) presents his plan for a new downtown eatery to Imlay City Commissioners on Tuesday. The proposed Palmer House restaurant would feature public and private dining areas, a bar, lounge and other amenities. photo by Tom Wearing.

In a gesture of support for the proposed sale and project, commissioners voted 7-0 for Howell to craft a document that will meet all conditions and ensure that the city's interests are protected.

Those conditions will likely allow the city to retain ownership of the property for 10 years, after which it will be transferred over to Romine.

"They just want to ensure the longevity of the business," said Romine. "I think that's a fair agreement.

"I'm very excited about this opportunity," he continued. "I think we can have a huge impact on the city and bring more people downtown.

"There is no reason why we can't create a place where people will want to come," Romine said.

The project has strong support from DDA Director Monica Irelan.

"This would undoubtedly become another anchor for our downtown area," said Irelan. "And it's in our commercial district."

Irelan noted that once up and running, the restaurant would bring in thousands of dollars in taxes. Other pluses are that the business will create about 17 jobs.

Other beneficiaries would be area growers and producers, who would provide the meat and produce to be used at the eatery.

"This will be a public/private collaboration," said Irelan. "We are appreciative of the city commission's support and for working to build our local economy."

Romine said that once he has an agreement with the city, he can proceed with locking in his investors and getting a conceptual drawing completed.

It was agreed that the matter will be brought back before the commission by late January or early February.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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