September 03, 2002 11:00 pm
CITY-OWNED BUILDING: Sub Shop owners Dan and Betty Baker have rented their building from the city for the past five years.  (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
CITY-OWNED BUILDING: Sub Shop owners Dan and Betty Baker have rented their building from the city for the past five years. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Mamacita's restaurant will be moving from its 110 Depot St. location to the spot on Fourth Street now occupied by the Sub Shop if the city council gives its final approval at its meeting tonight.

Mamacita's owner Sandy Sorrels was the high bidder for the Sub Shop property at the bid opening in City Hall Thursday morning.

Sorrels' bid was for $105,000, which she said could be for that full amount or could be in the form of $90,000 cash with a $15,000 allowance to upgrade the building and make the restrooms accessible to users of Max Square during certain events.

The only other bidders were the present occupants of the building, Dan and Betty Baker, who have rented from the city for the past five years. They bid $98,000.

The city had declared the property surplus. It acquired the property as part of the area which was developed as Max Square under a grant of federal money through the state Department of Transportation. If the city does not retain the property, it is open to discussion as to whether it would have to give back part of the grant money. City Manager Wes Hare doesn't think so, saying the grant money went into developing Max Square.

The Bakers were not happy about the bid outcome.

"We asked the city if we could buy the property and two weeks later it was put up for bids," said Betty Baker. "This probably will put us out of business."

Dan Baker said this is the second time his business has been booted out of city property. It first opened in the fire hall building but was there only three months before the city said it needed the space.

"We definitely won't deal with the city again," he said.

His wife said he had had health problems and doesn't have the strength to move again.

He said, "The city has been a good landlord, but we've put a lot into the building. They gave us some credit (toward the rent payments) for materials we've put in. We've updated the plumbing and electricity."

Baker said there was asbestos in the basement which the city has estimated would cost $5,000 to removed. The asbestos does not particularly concern Sorrels.

The building has about 1,800 square feet of space on the street level. There is seating for about 40 but it could seat more, the Bakers said.

Sorrels, who said Mamacita's now seats about 80, said the new location "would be smaller, but our business is not what is used to be."

She said if the city council approves the sale, she wanted to give the Subshop owners time to relocate.

"We don't have a definite timeline. I want to give them plenty of time. It'll probably take us three months to remodel. I want to remodel the kitchen, put in a grill, which we don't have now."

She said she wanted to "revamp what Mamacita's does now. It'll be a little different."

It will still cater a lot to the downtown lunch crowd, she said.

Sorrels has leased the Depot Street location for 20 years and said the condition of that building is the reason she wants to move.

"It's a really old building and has a lot of problems. I've been looking for something to buy for the last two years."

The Subshop lot is odd shaped, with 43.68 feet fronting on Fourth Street, 48.86 feet facing toward Adams Avenue, 31.34 feet opening to the east onto Max Square, and 77.06 along the alley.

The Bakers are looking for a new location but are not having much luck, they said.