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Rabbitman Footwear proprietor Johnny L. Williams proposes lease of skate park property

Family business owners would have the option to buy the downtown property during proposed lease

ALBANY — Johnny L. Williams asked the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority board Wednesday to authorize a five-year lease of the 125 College Drive property that operated for years as a skate park so that he can locate his family’s Rabbitman Footwear shine and repair business at the site.

Williams told the ADICA board relocating his current business from the nearby Shackleford Shopping Center would be “Phase 1” of a plan that would eventually see expansion of the family business to include a full shoe and clothing line.

“This is a good idea for Albany,” Williams told the board. “We’ve had the Rabbitman business at the same location for 28 years, and our family has been in business in Albany for 50 years. It will be a good fit; I’m telling you this is going to work.”

A preliminary agreement discussed by the ADICA board showed monthly lease payments of $300 for two years, $400 for the next two years and $500 for year five. The Williams family would have an option of purchasing the property for $45,000 at any time during the five years of the lease.

“I would like some protection if there are issues with the building,” Williams said. “I know there is a leak in there, and I would hate to get in it and be hit with a large repair bill.”

ADICA board member David Prisant said that, as owners of the property, the authority should make sure there are no major concerns before issuing a lease to Williams or any other tenant.

“If we’re going to lease this property to anyone, it should be in tip-top shape,” Prisant said.

City Attorney Nathan Davis suggested lowering monthly lease payments to cover the eventuality of repair work.

“ADICA doesn’t want to get into a position of managing property,” he said. “Maybe this group could lower the lease payments to $200 a month for the first two years or $100 for the first 12 months and $150 for the next 12.”

Board members weren’t keen on that idea.

“I wouldn’t want any tenant to be stuck with a large repair bill on property we’re leasing, but I also would hate to give up $2,000 in rent for $500 in repairs,” board member Tommy Gregors said. “We should thoroughly inspect that property before we lease it and either make repairs or authorize lower lease payments based on the inspection.”

Board member Thelma Johnson, who abstained from voting on a motion to move forward with inspection of the property, said she’d like to see a business plan before OK-ing the lease agreement.

“I think we should make sure the business is a good fit,” she said. “And I think it’s important for us to be consistent with the way we do business.”

Johnson successfully petitioned the board’s eventual rejection of businessman Bob Brooks’ sealed bid of $40,000 for the skate park property when Brooks failed to supply a business plan for the site. She said, “If there is no plan to locate a business there, we’ll have another empty building, and that’s what we’re trying to get away from.”

The board gave CEO Aaron Blair authorization to move forward with the inspection with plans to readdress the issue at ADICA’s April meeting.

The board also scheduled its retreat for April 19 at the Flint RiverQuarium and discussed Blair’s planned State of Downtown address scheduled for Monday at the RiverQuarium’s Imagination Theatre.