Kayak business plans to dock in Vassar, expand
Robert and Emily Sivak plan to move their business to Vassar, where they’ll restore a vacant home and help clean up the Cass River.
If that sounds like a win/win/win, Vassar City Council members thought so, too.
“We are excited to bring business into town, and to see the community grow, and I do think that we would benefit with a livery in town,” said Megan Hathaway, one of three council members who voted Monday to direct City Manager Andrew Niedzinski to sell a vacant house at 200 N. Cass Ave. to the Sivaks.
The couple plans to relocate their business, Sivak’s Cass River Boat & Tube Rental, from 3613 Higgins Road in Juniata Township to the property along the Cass River in Vassar.
“So kudos,” added Hathaway, addressing the Sivaks. “I hope it works out for you guys.”
Mayor Mike Damm abstained from voting on the issue, saying “I kind of helped bring this (development) about.” No one opposed the concept.
The city plans to sell the property at 200 N. Cass Ave. – site of a home that previously housed The Smoke Stop tobacco store – to the Sivaks for $6,500. The city bought the land several years ago, via tax foreclosure, for $7,543.
Council members directed Niedzinski to negotiate an agreement with the Sivaks regarding the sale and development of the property. That pleased one neighbor of the parcel, Carson Atkins, who lives across the street from the vacant home and was in the audience Monday night.
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” Atkins declared to the Sivaks after the council approved Niedzinski’s proposal to draft an agreement with the couple.
“We do believe it would be a great fit for our business,” Emily Sivak told council members when she and her husband addressed them Monday.
“We’ve been trying to get into town for quite some time now. We feel like we’re tucked away out there (along Higgins Road), and we’ve grown so much over the last three years. We did not think business was going to explode like that when we started, so if we could get into town, we would be able to do a lot more in the community.
“We like to sponsor, and donate, and do things, and I feel like if we were right here in town, we could do even more. We talked about definitely doing a lot of river cleanup.”
Niedzinski said city representatives “showed the house a few times to different parties,” receiving a lone proposal from the Sivaks.
The Sivaks rent kayaks, canoes, tubes and coolers, and transport their customers before and after a Cass River trip. They wrote they’re certain they can have the business open at 200 N. Cass Ave. by Memorial Day weekend of 2021.
Robert Sivak “is a union carpenter and has been rehabilitating properties for 20 years,” the Sivaks stated in their proposal to acquire the city parcel.
The couple plans to install a floating dock on the river behind the home at that address, and create a parking lot immediately behind the house, using the home’s front half for their kayak-rental business.
They plan to “power wash, sand blast, paint and make repairs to the outside” of the home, according to their written plan.
“We’d also restore it to as original as possible because there is a lot of beautiful architecture on that building,” Emily Sivak said. “Just when we were there looking at the property for like 10 minutes, several people stopped by and (mentioned) they might have lived there when they were younger, or knew somebody that lived there.”
She stressed she and her husband intend to “make it really pretty.”
Atkins has said there is “a lot of good, valuable woodwork in that house.”
Though the Sivaks’ current business is several miles northeast of Vassar and closed due in part to limitations related to COVID-19, Robert Sivak explained its operation.
“You would come to our location (on Higgins Road) and we’d put you on our shuttle bus with all the gear, and we’d take you upriver,” he said.
Then workers would drive to Vassar to pick up canoeists or kayakers going ashore at the public kayak launch along South Water Street, transporting them back to the Higgins Road location.
Once the Sivaks begin operating at 200 N. Cass Ave. along the river in Vassar, they’ll increase efficiency by making only one trip – transporting kayakers upriver. The customers will float downstream and exit the river onto floating docks at the North Cass Avenue location.
The Sivaks sell fishing poles, water shoes and snacks at their current store along Higgins Road.
“With the new location we’re going to expand it even more; we’re going to have ice cream and a snack shack, maybe, somewhere down the road,” Robert Sivak said.
“Maybe set up a little arcade (indoors). It’s going to be a family fun center when it’s all complete.”
In 2019 the Sivaks proposed to open a kayak-rental business and Mexican restaurant/bar at 137 S. Water St. in Vassar. The city council, however, denied a request to rezone the parcel from a residential to a business designation.
The parcel at 200 N. Cass Ave. is in a commercial zone, though the city ordinance allows an owner to reside on the second floor of the home, which is within the Cass River floodplain.
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.