Classic Root Beer Barrel Ownership Approved By Douglas Council In Split Vote
Finally, after five years of hard work and a lot of planning, the vision of many folks in the City of Douglas has come to fruition: the city has taken ownership of the 17-foot-high, 10-foot-diameter historic root beer barrel and will maintain it as a landmark attraction.
Douglas City Council on Monday approved a contract with the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society granting the city ownership of the roadside food stand built in the 1950s in the shape of a barrel.
The city plans to place it at the corner of Ferry and Center streets, near its one-time home a few blocks away, and make it part and parcel of an already planned parking lot and the Beach to Bayou trailhead.
“You have an icon,” said Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society President Sharon Kelly. Supporters say they believe the barrel will become an emblem of the area and a major tourist attraction.
The redwood barrel could be up in the fall, said Duane Brown of the historical society.
Despite all of the excitement, there are those city leaders that expressed mixed feeling, warning the icon comes with great responsibilities that may later come to bite the city.
“The city does not have deep pockets,” said Douglas Mayor Pro Tem Martha Hoexter. She said she felt money that will be used for maintenance could go to other needs and that the city will now be expected to take over other projects that other community groups propose.
Hoexter and Douglas City Council Member Gerald Schmidt voted against accepting the barrel.
“I want this root beer barrel to cost us nothing,” said Schmidt. “I don’t consider it to be a major tourist attraction.”
Douglas City Council Member Greg Harvath said the maintenance costs are a “small, small undertaking” and expects residents will support the project.
“I want the community to support this,” said Douglas City Council Member Neal Seabert. ”It’s an important part of where we need to go.”
With concrete work, lighting and other items, city officials estimate the barrel will cost about $9,000 to install. The society has already raised $7,300 and plans to collect the remaining money. The structure will cost about $4,000 to $5,000 every four to five years to maintain – about $1,000 a year, according to Douglas City Manager Bill Lefevere.
Tourists on the way to Oval Beach would stop at the barrel for root beer and hot dogs from the 1950s until the business closed in the 1970s. The structure slowly decayed and was covered in brush and trees.
The society bought the barrel in 2010, and volunteers (Friends of the Barrel) spent many hours sanding, repairing, varnishing and moving the 125-foot barrel staves in a massive restoration project.