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Dec 15

The Cafe Luwak East Cross Street Stimulus Package (Or Decaying Heritage Versus Our Conscience)

Comments (2) 4:15 PM posted by admin |

At tonight’s Ypsilanti City Council meeting, whether or not to provide a 45 day extension to a temporary traffic control order to close eastbound traffic on East Cross Street between North River and Park Streets will be discussed. I’m sure in typical City Council fashion, we will beat this one to death, but before we do, let’s recap.

In order to determine where we are going, we must first know where we have been.

At approximately 1:30AM, the building is engulfed in flames.

By afternoon the building is in the process of being stabilized.

29 OCT
(From City Manager Ed Koryzno in the 10/29 Council Information Letter)

I spoke to Mr. Stewart Beal last week and requested an update as to his plans for the building. He said that his plans are to move the tenants he has into the portion of the building that was not damaged by fire and leave the remainder of the building until the economy improves. A temporary traffic control order was issued by me to allow Mr. Beal to erect supports in the right-of-way to stabilize the remaining walls. Traffic control orders are temporary for 90 days and then come before Council for approval or denial. Mr. Beal has incorrectly interpreted that the 90 day traffic order applies to his disposition of the building. I told Mr. Beal that he needs to remove the supports before the snow falls. He desires to obtain an additional 90 day extension to the traffic control order. We are still awaiting the building report from Mr. Beal’s structural engineer. I have asked the City Attorney, Fire Chief and DPS Director to recommend a course of action and will share that recommendation with council next week.

(From an email from City Manager Ed Koryzno to City Council)

Mayor and Council Members:

As you are aware, we are closely monitoring the fire damage at 400 North River.

The city attorney has assessed the situation, and in conjunction with reports from the fire marshal, DPW director, and building department, we have prepared an abatement order pursuant to the Michigan Fire Prevention Code, being Public Act 207 of 1941 (MCL 29.1 et seq).

I expect this order to be served on Mr. Beal by Monday and the corresponding fire inspection reports being delivered to the state fire marshal. The affect of this order will be that the property owner has 10 days in which to signal their intention to comply with the order, and 30 days in which to comply.

In the order we are asking the property owner to either demolish (obviously after obtaining historic district commission approval), or in the alternative, permanently stabilize the structure from the interior so the roadway is no longer blocked.

In the event the property owner fails to comply, we expect to initiate a circuit court action in order to force compliance.

That circuit court action will be commenced after the completion of the 30 day time period, so likely mid December.

I have attached the engineer’s report submitted to the City by Mr. Beal regarding the condition of 400 N. River St.. Please contact me if you should have any questions.


12 NOV
(From a letter from Stewart Beal to Ypsilanti Fire Chief Jon Ichesco)

Dear Mr. Ichesco,

I received your ABATEMENT ORDER dated 11/9/2009 and am pleased to inform you that as of 10/30/2009 we have completed #2 in order to protect the peace, security, and safety of persons and property.

Please consider this letter both notice of my intention to comply with this order AND my compliance with this order. We therefore consider this matter resolved and look forward to continued cooperation between Bea! Properties. LLC and the City of Ypsilanti.

23 NOV
(From a letter from Ypsilanti Fire Chief Jon Ichesco to Stewart Beal)

Dear Mr. Beal:

I am in receipt of your letter dated November 12, 2009, a copy of which is attached. Your letter is in response to my abatement Order dated November 9, 2009 indicating that to protect the peace, security, and safety of persons and property that (1) the structure be demolished consistent with all local codes (including but not limited to gaining Historic District approval), or (2) permanently stabilize and secure the premises from danger of collapse.

In your November 12 letter you indicate that you have complied with this, citing number 2 (that you have permanently stabilized the structure) as of October 30, 2009.

Upon my review of the premises there continues to be temporary scaffolding and supports on the exterior of the structure. It is my understanding that you were issued a temporary approval to occupy the roadway for these temporary supports and that approval is expiring shortly. Futhermore, such scaffolding is not a permanent stabilization and other corrective measures are needed.

Please note that this is an urgent matter pursuant to the proximity of the structure to a high pedestrian traffic area. In addition, the reverberations of the close-passing locomotives give me causue to be concerned for collapse of the building.

Your letter dated November 12, although pleasant in its terms, conveys to me that you will not be taking any further action to comply with my order.

I therefore find that you have failed to signify in writing your intention to comply with the order with the 10 days and will proceed accordingly.

Also, your letter does not mention any prohibition from undertaking work. I have however learned that someone has stated you were not able to undertake work due to the fire investigation. I have looked into that matter. At one time, a representative of the department orally requested to refrain from digging in a small section of the premises where accelerants were found. This area was not secured as a crime scene, no barriers such as crime scene tape have been installed at the location, nor were you sent any formal notice. The wording of the Abatement Notice (which was sent much later than the formal request was communicated) was clear and action need to be accomplished to abate the hazards at that location. The letter contained no restrictions. You therefore remain under order to abate.

24 NOV
(From an email from City Manager Ed Koryzno to City Council)

Mayor and Council Members:

I previously informed council that pursuant to Public Act 207 of 1941, the city provided an order to the owner of 400 N. River to abate the nuisance at this location. The city received the owners response, which is attached and is unsatisfactory. Fire Chief Ichesco delivered a letter to the owner, which is also attached, that informs the owner that he failed to signify in writing his intention to comply with the order and the city will proceed accordingly. Please contact me if you should have any questions.

(From a letter from Stewart Beal to City Manager Ed Koryzno)

Dear Mr. Koryzno:

Thank you for taking the time this morning to meet with Fred J. Beal and me to review the status of the Thompson Block project and our efforts to move forward from the devastation of the fire that occurred early on the morning of September 23, 2009.

As you can imagine, the fire was a major blow to our slowly developing plan to renovate and occupy the Thompson Block. We do however remain committed to the project, as evidenced by our immediate efforts to structurally stabilize the facade, completed prior to the issuance of the engineer’s letter on October 30, 2009 and to continue our planning efforts with regard to redevelopment.

This will however be a lengthy process, a process for which we both need additional time and the cooperation of the City of Ypsilanti. It appears we have some difference of opinion about our efforts to date I think it appropriate to clear up here so that we are starting with the same set of facts before formalizing our plans:

  • We have completed a “permanent stabilization” of the facade of the Thompson Block, as documented by Ehlert Bryan’s letter of October 30, 2009 forwarded to the City that same day, and as again confirmed to you in writing by Stewart Beal on November 12, 2009 in response to the City Fire Department’s Abatement Order letter of November 9, 2009.
  • There is a 90 day Street Closure Order in place for both River Street and Cross Street according to your comments today and certain correspondence received previously. We have yet to see the order, but would understand it runs through December 23, 2009 and includes the entirety of both streets. We would appreciate, as we have requested previously, receiving a copy of this order.
  • We have constructed our stabilization system to allow for both north and south bound traffic on River, and for (so far) east bound traffic on Cross Street. We understand that re-opening the remaining street is a priority for the City, and we are prepared to work with you to accomodate a second, west bound, lane of traffic on Cross as we offered to do on the day of the fire. As discussed this morning we would be pleased to meet with the appropriate City officials regarding this issue immediately.
  • We have been prohibited by the Ypsilanti Fire Department from working inside the building other than as specifically directed as part of the fire investigation, most recently in a a conversation with Fire Inspector John Roe on November 18.
  • This prohibition complicated our original stabilization plan, as sketched up on the day of the fire, to secure the building partially from inside the structure, resulting in more external bracing and street occupancy than originally planned. It prevents us even today from working in the building to protect the foundation walls, a final step recommended by our engineer, or to make any other improvements at the site. We request immediate permission to re-enter the building.
  • We plan to continue our efforts to re-develop the building, and are currently underway with architectural work and cost analysis related to this effort.
  • The two north bays of the building and the complete historic building facade that remain standing are integral components of that effort. They must be preserved to retain the historic fabric of the neighborhood, Ypsilanti’s heritage as a community that values its history, and local historic district approval for the project.
  • Our planning efforts, especially as a result of the fire and in the current economic climate, will be a protracted one. As such the existing, and again “permanent” stabilization system, installed at the Thompson Block, needs to stay in place while those planning efforts continue.

We are specifically requesting as discussed this morning a 180 day extension of the Street Closure Order now in place, and with it the City’s acknowledgement that we have, by installing a strcutural engineer’s approved permanent stabilization system, complied with the City’s Abatement Order of November 9, 2009.

While we recognize as discussed above that the street is not in fact “closed”, we are in the right of way and need the Order extended for that purpose. We would use this requested time extension to make additional plans with regard to the re-development project, and to investigate options for vacating the street to the extent required to satisfy reasonable safety concerns.

We at Beal Properties LLC have been, and propose to continue to be, cooperative with the City of Ypsilanti as we work toward the mutually compatible goal of (1) insuring the safety of the Citizens of Ypsilanti, and (2) encouraging economic re-development. To do so however does require allowing us the additional time requested to resolve the City’s concerns and to continue planning the re-development of the building.

We would appreciate your prompt response to this request, and certainly prior to the expiration of the existing Street Closure Order, and/or any further action on the part of the City with regard to the Abatement Order. Thank you again for your time today, and for your time consideration.

11 DEC
(From a letter from Stewart Beal to City Manager Ed Koryzno)

Dear Mr. Koryzno:

We appreciated the opportunity to meet with you and City staff today regarding the current condition and future status of the Thompson Block. We understand your concerns and those of the community better for having met today, and we remain eager to work with you to mitigate those concerns and any real or perceived threat to community safety that may underlie them.

As expressed previously, the fire was a major blow to our slowly developing plan to renovate and occupy the Thompson Block. That said, we remain committed to the project as evidenced by our immediate actions to implement a facade stabilization system, and we continue our planning efforts with regard to re-development.

This will however be a lengthy process, a process for which we need both additional time and cooperation of the City of Ypsilanti. Having met today we understand better your need for a more definitive plan and timeline for dealing with the building. We also understand that you have been under substantial community pressure with regard to our occupancy of City right of way and espsecially the existing restriction of traffic on Cross Street. This last concern is one we have offered to participate in solving, starting on the day of the fire, but to which you (sp) staff has so far been unresponsive.

We propose to work with you and City staff to resolve these issues. Given the limited time remaining on the existing Street Closure Order, which we would understand to expire December 23rd, and complexity of the task at hand however, we would now requrest a 45 day extension of the Street Closure Order, during which time we propose to take the following steps with regard to the building and right of way occupancy:

  • Resolve with City staff a safe and reasonable plan for re-opening west bound Cross Street, and implement that plan within 15 days.
  • Investigate alternate facade stabilization methods that would allow the return of additional street / right of way to public use.
  • Investigate options for proceeding with facade repairs in lieu of alternate stabilization methods, and initiate the permit process for proceeding with such work.

As discussed today and based on our experience with other facade stabilization projects, it is unlikely we can resolve all of the City’s concerns within the next 45 days. The necessary engineering is time consuming, and any new stabilization system would require time for shop drawings and fabrication prior to installation, and we are entering winter a time in which the work, if not impossible, is certainly more difficult.

We at Beal Properties LLC have been, and propose to continue to be, cooperative with the City of Ypsilanti as we work toward the mutually compatible goal of (1) insuring the safety of the Citizens of Ypsilanti, and (2) encouraging economic re-development. To do so however does require allowing us the additional time requested to resolve the City’s concerns and to continue planning the re-development of the building.

Again we are requesting a 45 day extension of the existing Street Closure Order. We understand this issue will be on the agenda of this coming Tuesday’s City Council meeting, hopefully after today’s discussion with staff support, and we plan to attend and be available to respond to any additional concerns that may be expressed there.

We look forward to working through this situation with you and City staff. Thank you for arranging today’s meeting and for your consideration.

The discussion tonight will focus on a few key elements of this whole thing and will probably fall into one of these categories.

Ypsilanti loves its historic preservation, but we love it on our own terms no matter how contradictory they may seem. Case in point is the beloved Thompson Building located at 400 and 408 North River Street for your convenience (and kept inside a chainlink fence for safekeeping). The Thompson Building is the last remaining building in Michigan that was once a barracks for soldiers during the Civil War. We must do whatever it takes to save it.

The counterpoint to that argument is the Peninsular Paper Mill. It was the oldest paper mill in the United States of America having been built in 1867. A previous City Council allowed that historic gem to be destroyed and replaced with student apartments built by a developer using out-of-state, non-union, labor as well as out-of-state materials. The rationale used was the greater good was being served by destroying a landmark and from its ashes would rise a Phoenix fueled by the economic engine of prosperity. Tax revenues were increased. Midtown was now ready to be downsized. The smokestack was going to be saved. What more do you people want?

The City of Ypsilanti — especially City Council and City Staff — is anti-business. We go out of our way to throw up road blocks like zoning, permits, and inspections for developers and make them jump through hoops to do anything around here. Want to make donuts? We require you to have a fire suppression system. Want to sell adult literature and videos? We make your building have a safe egress. Want to convert a two-unit house into five apartments and you only want to pull a permit to install drywall in the attic? We…well…well, we don’t really do anything about that. Go figure.

The bottom line is that developers must be welcomed with open arms and showered with tax abatements. If someone is willing to invest money here, we must do whatever it takes to make that happen. If closing a street for a couple months is what it’s going to take, don’t ask questions. Just do it.

A lot of people and businesses have been inconvenienced by the Thompson Building in the last three months. If you want to get to Depot Town from my house going west, you either have to cut through the alley to Maple then to River to Cross or take Cross to Park to North to River back to Cross. Or I could keep walking down Cross as I’ve done for the last fifty years.

Not the greatest inconvenience, but I have to admit that I haven’t spent as much time in Depot Town these past 82 days as I normally do. If I’m driving somewhere, I usually just head out to Michigan Avenue. And when I go to and from work, I take the back roads. The closing of East Cross Street has changed my behavior a little, and if the business owners say they are experiencing losses due to this, then I have to take them at their word.

Imagine the PR hit the City will take by effectively not allowing the developer of the Thompson Block the opportunity to salvage the building after a devastating tragedy such as the fire that gutted the building in September? How can Council be so uncaring? Are they stupid? What developer would ever want to come and invest in a City that treats people like this?

Surprisingly, this argument may have legs. Prior to my freshman year in college, Lafayette College tore down the historically significant Delta Upsilon fraternity house in order to build a student center. The razing of the building became national news. So much, in fact, that it even appeared in my hometown newspaper. The story doesn’t parallel that of the Thompson Building too closely, but there are similarities. Students were demanding a student center. This is not all that different than the complaints of residents and business owners who want to see the street opened to two-way traffic again (in this case, with those wanting the street reopened running at 12 to 1 in favor). In the end, the student center built on the former site of DU used bricks from the razed building for its fireplace. This is not all that different than saving the smokestack of the former Peninsular Paper Mill. In the end, the greater good was served, students were happy, and a historical treasure lost to the ages.

The rumbling of a train might cause the building to collapse. A snow plow is probably going to hit it once we get our first storm of the season. One of these days a car is going to smash into the corner and the building will knock down everything within a 200 foot radius.

Maybe. I guess.

Safety is a definite concern, but the real safety concern is that of pedestrians trying to cross River into Depot Town. Even when things were going well, the only legal and safe crossing was that from the signal tower to the Thompson Building. Since that is no longer an option, we have a real dilemma. People can walk down to the Ypsilanti Food Co-Op and cross there. This goes back to the question of convenience and whether walking an extra 150 feet is really that big of a deal.

I think this is the first time we can actually say with any certainty, but yes it is a big deal. Pedestrian safety is the only substantial issue here and we must address it now. Not in 15 days. Not in 45 days. Not in 180 days.

The only real question that must be answered tonight is when will East Cross Street be two-way again? Talking about how important the building is, what an eye-sore it’s become, or when the project will be completed is a smokescreen. Those other questions need to be answered — and will in time — but lend nothing to this argument.

The problem I see tonight is that no one has a plan. City Staff recommended the extension. I hope someone will be able to explain why. Mr. Beal says he has a plan, but I’m nervous. Maybe I’m reading too much into his words, but when he writes:

Resolve with City staff a safe and reasonable plan for re-opening west bound Cross Street, and implement that plan within 15 days.

I get freaked out.

Is going to have a plan for re-opening the street in 15 days? One that might take 180 days (or some arbitrary number) to implement?

Or is he promising he can have the street open in 15 days?

What if we grant this extension and he fails to comply? Then what? Do we have any recourse?

Simply put, we’re screwed.

One of two things is going to happen:

1) We are going to negotiate at the Council table. If that happens, it will be a disaster.

2) We are going to table this resolution for an extension until early next week giving us time to negotiate in private issues like liability, securing some kind of assurances (like a performace bond) that the work will be completed by a specific date, and some kind of recovery of miscellaneous costs like restriping.

Nothing ever goes according to plan. Tonight could be worse than any train wreck that might cause the Thompson Building to collapse. Wish us luck.

This note comes courtesy of Jim Karnopp, owner of Cafe Luwak:

And if anyone knows anybody who hasn’t finished their Christmas shopping yet, let them know that Café Luwak will be giving away free lattes this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to anyone who is willing to navigate the streets to get to Depot Town and purchase an item from one of our retailers. Just tell people to bring their receipt to the café and they will receive a free latte or hot chocolate just for shopping in our district. And if they spend $50 or more in any one day, I will give them a free $5.00 gift card to use on their next visit as well as a free latte.

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  1. Comment by cmadler
    December 16, 2009 @ 9:27 am

    “The Thompson Building is the last remaining building in Michigan that was once a barracks for soldiers during the Civil War.”

    If anyone actually raises this point, they are simply wrong. The old limestone barracks at Fort Wayne, in Detroit, was constructed in 1848, and saw fairly continuous use from 1861 through 1920. It’s in pretty good structural shape and parts of it have been very nicely restored.

    Anything from the Thompson Building that could be saved at this point might have local sentimental value, but, I suspect, would have negligible historical value. Anyone who’s truly interested in preserving an area Civil War barracks should probably talk to the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition or the Friends of Fort Wayne, rather than wasting their efforts here in Ypsi.

  2. Comment by Sadiebird8
    December 20, 2009 @ 12:43 am

    When a town really cares about a place, they invest in it. They make sure it is deemed an historic site. They take care of it because they are proud of it.

    No one really cared about the Thompson Blocks. Developers came and went. People talked about how nice it would be if it was restored or renovated. But no one really did anything to fix it up.

    Beal had his chance before the fire and did nothing except hang a sign promising loft apartments in the fall. Or was it the Spring? Or 2005? And when is that restaurant going to open in the old train station again?

    My friends and family have all lived in Depot Town off and on for years….nothing was ever done about the building and now it is a burned out shell that Beal can’t even stabilize.

    Let’s raze it and be done with it. Let something that is going to bring actual business to Depot Town take its place, instead of another dozen or so years of broken promises.

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