Nutrition club hopes to buy it later
By Scott Bellile
A nutrition club plans to move into the downtown city-owned property that for many years housed Curt’s London Barbershop.
In a unanimous 10-0 vote on July 11, the New London City Council authorized City Administrator Kent Hager and City Attorney Earl Luaders to negotiate a lease-purchase contract agreement with prospective tenants Tracey Johnson and Laura Turner.
The building they are eying is located at 201 S. Pearl St. at the intersection of South Pearl and South Water streets.
Turner said they want to get the business up and running as quick as they can.
The general terms of the five-year lease include:
• Free rent for the first year, $100 monthly rent for the second year and $400 monthly rent for years three through five.
• Eligibility to extend the lease another five years.
• A $50,000 price tag to purchase the building anytime during the lease.
• A requirement to keep the building insured.
Although the first year’s rent will be free, Turner told the city’s finance and personnel committee on July 5 that the pair plans to invest in updating the building, including its electrical work and plumbing.
“We’re looking at anywhere between $30,000 and $35,000 for build-out costs, which is the reason why we’re not looking to go into a purchase at this point,” Turner said, “because we’d rather get it up and running than to spend the money on a purchase and then not have the financing that we’re wanting to build the business.”
Two vacant city-owned lots between the building and John’s Bar will remain vacant because the lessees are not interested in that land.
Johnson told the committee she and Turner want to begin a nutritional meal and education center that supports community members’ health goals within a positive environment. They would offer visitors guidance, healthy meals and space to socialize.
Community members may know the women as teachers. Johnson used to teach art at New London High School while Turner currently teaches science there.
They both run side ventures selling nutrition and weight management products through the company Herbalife.
Johnson wrote in a letter to the committee that the two have a combined eight years’ experience offering services within the field of health and nutrition.
“Ultimately what we’re wanting to do is provide a platform for growth, whether that be through nutrition, whether that be through fitness, whether that be through business opportunities, anything along those lines,” Turner said.
“We both have a vested interest of adding more value to our community,” Johnson said, “and so we do see a lot of value in that space for the pure fact of where it is in the heart of the city.”
Hager asked the finance committee members if they are OK with the city relinquishing ownership of 201 S. Pearl St. if the women eventually purchase it.
Hager asked because he said the city acquired the building a decade ago for a development vision. Around that time, the city had just received a 6-acre land donation next door from the former Wolf River Lumber company. The city purchased what was then the Curt’s London Barbershop building to create a Pearl Street frontage option for if a developer came along and wished to demolish it and link the 6-acre plot to Pearl Street.
None of that happened, but development discussions finally headed somewhere this year.
At last week’s city council meeting, the council approved an $88,500 contract with Stadtmueller & Associates and SEH Design/Build to create three proposals for the 6-acre riverfront property. The city’s visions include riverfront housing and a mixed-use library.
The finance and personnel committee and the city council implied through their unanimous support of the nutrition club that the Pearl Street frontage option will not remain on the table for developers.
“Very frankly I don’t think that, just looking at the full property down there, that this building is going to be a real advantage to Stadtmueller as far as what he’s planning on the rest of the property,” New London Mayor Gary Henke told the committee. “And I don’t see any reason for the city to sit on that building any longer.”
Henke said if Turner and Johnson eventually purchase the building, then it would return to the property tax roll.
The city bought the building in 2008 for $100,000, according to property records.
A 2014 Press Star article stated Curt’s London Barbershop owner Curt Sommer retired in 2010. A group of barbers continued running a business there until 2014, when they opened New London Barbers on North Shawano Street.
Wolf River Paddle Sports operated out of 201 S. Pearl St. briefly in 2015 before closing down. Ever since, the building sat unoccupied.
The city gave tours to prospective entrepreneurs the past couple years, Hager told the economic development committee at its June 27 meeting. However, the individuals lacked financing or solid business plans.
“Unfortunately a lot of people have a lot of ideas and not a lot of them follow through,” he said.
In contrast, Hager described Johnson and Turner as “legitimate” and experienced businesspeople who “know what they’re doing.”