When Fenton officials opened the Clarkston Union owners bids, Fenton Downtown Development Authority Director Michael Burns said it smelled like hickory.
"We were convinced they stuck their bids in the smoker before they got here. (Catallo) denies it," Burns said. "Everything they've done has been A-1."
The business partners for the planned Fenton Fire Hall restaurant, Ann Stevenson and Curt Catallo, owners of greeted the community at a press conference on the site of their future project Tuesday evening.
A member of the audience said now they are known as "Curt and Ann of Clarkston Union," but in five years, they'll be "Curt and Ann of the Fenton Fire Hall."
Against the backdrop of a 1930 fire engine owned by Fenton's firefighters association, Catallo said, "Let's do that."
He and Stevenson will be developing a new restaurant in Fenton's the during its meeting at Fenton City Hall. Catallo said seven to eight months is a very realistic timeline for the project, which will create about 75-90 jobs. The next step for the developers is to take a look at the building as it is now and create minimally invasive restorations, he added.
DDA Chairman Craig Schmidt said an accountant studied financial records of the final two candidates for the project, Clarkston Union and Arbor Brewing Company, and the financials on both were good.
The DDA is providing Clarkston Union with a five-year lease to purchase agreement on the old fire hall, for $1 per year with the option of buying the building for $1 at the end of the five years.
In addition, the DDA will provide $100,000 as a financial incentive for improvements at the building, said DDA Director Michael Burns. The DDA's $100,000 will be the last money into the project. A development agreement still needs to be worked out between Fenton DDA and Clarkston Union, said City Manager Lynn Markland.
Resident James Pushman said it was a great job by the DDA, especially after the misfortune the city had with the previous developer,
"I'm happy to see this," Pushman said.
Schmidt said it was 10 years ago that the moved into its new building, and eight years ago that the DDA took control of the old fire hall. The Fenton DDA worked with another prospective lease to purchase tenant, Michigan Brewing Company, for more than a year after that.
The new project at the location will help revitalize downtown Fenton, he said. DDA officials believe it will be the building to connect North LeRoy Street with Dibbleville.
"This is a very key building," Schmidt said.
Catallo said he and Stevenson want to help build a sense of community and are honored to be selected. If there were a "For Sale" sign in front of the old fire hall, they might have bought it in that way, he said. And the incentive the DDA is offering makes a huge difference for an independent restaurant, Catallo added.
The DDA considered four groups for the old fire hall -- Clarkston Union, and Fenton DDA officials hope the owners of the last three finalists will still look at the city as a location, Schmidt said. There are other opportunities in downtown Fenton that would be a good fit for them, he believes.
DDA board member John Strayer said it was a difficult choice and a very close decision for him. He went to different restaurants during the process.
What makes Clarkston Union exceptional was, its marketing ability, Strayer said. And it will market both its new restaurant in Fenton, and downtown Fenton, as it moves into the old fire hall.
Schmidt said the Clarkston Union owners' development will complement the other restaurants Fenton has downtown.
Markland said both Clarkston Union and Arbor Brewing Company are very solid, and finances were not the main factor in the decision.
Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl King, representing Mayor Sue Osborn and voting on the DDA board, said at the DDA meeting that Clarkston Union is a very family oriented restaurant.
At the press conference, King and other members of city council wished Stevenson and Catallo well.
Councilman Les Bland, in the audience, said he believes Clarkston Union is a better fit for Fenton, because of its menu. Bland has eaten at both places, and Clarkston Union has very good food, while the other candidate was more of a "brewpub," he said. In addition, the old fire hall is close to a Bland said.
Burns said a real estate agent representing Clarkston Union was first to call him around the end of March to early April, when news reports began about issues with the previous tenant for the old fire hall. Burns wrote down the phone number the real estate agent gave him and said he'd telephone if something happened.
On the day the DDA ended the agreement with its other tenant, the agent called again. When Burns found out that Clarkston Union's owners were the ones interested, he knew the DDA needed a smooth process in place to get the right people into the old fire hall, he said.
A committee studied the issue and recommended Clarkston Union's owners for the project to the full DDA board, which approved the recommendation.