What’s going to happen with the Thompson block?

thomposnblockscaffoldsI had occasion to talk with a gentleman the other day who is in the construction business, and he indicated to me that saving the Thompson block at this point would be near impossible. He said that it was likely that the mortar holding the bricks in place, which was already beginning to fail in sections, was further weakened by the extreme heat of the fire. In his professional opinion, the only way to move forward at this point would be to number the bricks, take down the walls, and then build them back again with new mortar, perhaps reversing them in the process, so that the sides previously facing in, faced out. He, however, acknowledged that doing so would almost certainly make the project ineligible for historic building grants and incentives such as those which had been under consideration prior to the fire. So, I’m not sure where this leaves us as a community. What I do know, however, is that the structure, as it now stands, isn’t likely to stand for long. So, what’s the best case scenario given all the variables? If it is concluded that the structure needs to be taken down brick by brick, and rebuilt, how does that impact the funding of the project? And, what’s the liability involved in keeping it as it is, with big winter storms and significant snowfall not so far off in our future?

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67 Comments

  1. Posted October 19, 2009 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Why not just leave it the way it is forever? I assumed that was the plan.

  2. Karl
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    No one wants to face the facts, but it absolutely has to come down. Saving the bricks, however, and using them in a new structure, would be some consolation. Hopefully, as you mention, doing so won’t negatively impact the financing.

  3. Ricker 76er
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Jake, you’re funny. I like the idea of saving the bricks and making them part of a new structure. I drive by that thing daily and wonder when somebody is just going to make decision. Seriously. Now, it’s just a bigger eye sore than before.

  4. Curt Waugh
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Depot Town – We’re the Scaffoldiest!

  5. Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    As a history major it hurts to say this, but it needs to come down. If they can reuse the bricks fine. As a resident I gave up on this building ever being useful again a long time ago. Euthanize it already. It’s done it’s bit for king and country.

  6. 2 Cents
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    How about a ‘sponser a brick’ program? It’s work in other places.

  7. Oliva
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Can we spare the bricks in a way like Cross Street Village spared some of the masonry from the old high school and used the handsome sculptured stone pieces to make a lovely park area in back? Not quite the same thing, I know, but we could do the sponsor-a-brick thing to raise a little money and then move the bricks over to Water Street to be used somehow for the people-made park suggested here? Even for useful culverts . . .

  8. Ypsi Stupidity
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    C’mon – this is plain stupid. I haven’t had the reason to drive by recently – so I was dumbfounded at the pic. Are they actually thinking about rebuiliding..? You have to be kidding me. I support the re-use of the bricks – heck – sell them for keepsakes – whatever. But knock the damn think down and start over….

  9. Mark H.
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    In NYC, on Park Ave. South or Lexington, a one hundred year old bank building was demolished entirely — except for its facade, which was beautiful and of historic value. The facade was carefully preserved, with supports much like the towers of burnt bricks now standing in Depot Town, and a new building was constructed behind the facade. Then the old facade and new building were joined, and it worked well. U of M is doing some thing similar with the old Carnegie library facade as it builds a new high rise dorm (a $200 million project, I think). But those builders and owners had a deeper pocket, and more of a certain income flow, and a clear purpose for the building that was being built while incorporating an old facade. I predict no such viable plan with real and adequate funding will come forward for the Thompson building. This isn’t my wish, just the probable outcome for a property that couldn’t get adequate funding before it burned. And unlike the NYC bank building and the U of M building, the Thompson building has never been lovely to look at nor of great value in any aesthetic or historic sense.

    Proove me wrong, and I’ll buy you a drink in the bar that the thompson building psuedo-plan may or may not include!

  10. Townie
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Another big question comes to mind. If the building does come down, what current construction requirements come into play? Will it have to be set back further from the street thereby losing the current footprint and marketable space? And by the way, does anyone know if there was insurance that will help rebuild or will the banks be reimbursed?

  11. Jon
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    The Thompson Block can be saved. Repairing such a badly fire-damaged building has been done many times before, even once in Ypsilanti in recent history.

    The feasibility of renovating Ypsilanti’s Thompson Block
    http://www.concentratemedia.com/devnews/ypsilantithompsonblockrebuild0075.aspx

  12. Brackinald Achery
    Posted October 20, 2009 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Why not plant money trees in Water Street and use the proceeds to turn the Thompson block into a space shuttle?

  13. roots
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Well, I would gladly sponsor a brick just to see something, anything happen to move the property forward. Seriously, which will be completed first, the war or this project?

    The scaffoldiest. That’s hilarious. I actually LOL’d.

  14. Mark H.
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Jon,

    Yes, the facade could be saved IF someone will put enough money into the project to do so. That is an extremely unlikely prospect for the shell of this never terribly valuable building in Ypsilanti, in this market, on this site (lacking adequate parking, thus limiting its market value). The article you link to notes that

    “the extreme temperatures from the fire could easily weaken the clay-bricks and mortar joints in the circa 1860s Thompson Block. However, the remaining walls could still be kept up and be used for aesthetic purposes rather than structural with a practically new building going up on the side.”

    Who is going to invest millions in a project based on the aesthetic values of a thin wall of 150 year old burned bricks? Maybe such a capitalist is out there who thinks such a venture is worthwhile and will yield returns on the dollar attractive. The EMU building Sheerzer was not so badly burned as the Thompson building, it was actively in use for nearly a century before it burned, and its owner – EMU – had a clear use for it after repair. It’s a great and distinctive building. Thompson isn’t.

    If anyone can provide evidence that the Thompson building was insured sufficiently to not merely restore these walls of wobbly, burned bricks into the run down building it was before the fire, but actually insured enough to produce the capital required to create a useable building with market value, well, then please do so and I’ll buy you a drink at the Track.

    By the way, Jon, is the article you linked to written by you?

  15. Money Trail
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Knock that sucker down, and build a new building. If you want…use the old bricks to build some sort of neat-o sidewalk, or sculpture. But, let’s get going on something. No one wants to throw any money at this thing. Get it done…please.

  16. Kid
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    We could stack all the bricks on the railroad tracks so that the train could bust through them like the Kool Aid man. That would be cool.

  17. Ypsiman
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    How many codes are being violated?

    Sec. 94-111. Building materials.
    Except for the purpose of building and with permission from the superintendent of public works, no person shall place any stone, timber, lumber, planks, boards, bricks or other materials in or upon any street, alley, sidewalk or other public space. Such material shall not be allowed to remain in such street, alley, sidewalk or other public space after completion of such building, or for a longer period than three months; and the building material shall not be allowed to occupy and obstruct more than one-half of any street, alley, sidewalk or any portion thereof other than that in front of the lot or premises on which such material is to be used. When such building has been completed, all building material, dirt and rubbish arising therefrom shall be removed without delay. In cases where the sidewalk is removed or obstructed, the person granted permission shall provide and maintain a temporary sidewalk not less than three feet in width between the line of the lot of premises and such building material. Any permission granted under this section shall not authorize any person to obstruct or in any manner prevent the free passage of surface water through the gutter of any street, alley or other public space in the city. Colored lights of sufficient brightness to give adequate warning to motor and pedestrian traffic shall be maintained on any material placed in a street, alley, sidewalk or other public space.

    (c) In case of an emergency arising after office hours, at night, on Sundays or on legal holidays, when an immediate excavation may be necessary for the public safety or for the protection of public or private property, permission is hereby granted to make the necessary excavation upon the express condition that a permit application be made in the manner herein provided on or before noon of the next following business day.

    Was there a permit obtained to block a public roadway? Is there not a public cost associated with closing a street?

    (3) Demolition by arson proven to be caused by the owner or the owner’s agent shall require the restoration of the structure and authorize the commission to proceed under the powers delineated in section 54-85.

    Sec. 18-194. Escrow account.
    (a) Generally. All persons owning a vacant building at which one or more triggering events (fire) have occurred during the period it qualifies as a vacant building or within 60 days prior to its initial designation as a vacant building shall deposit an amount as designated below monthly unless specifically waived in an escrow account with the city until the structure no longer qualifies as a vacant building. Interest, if any, earned on the escrow account shall be retained by the city to reimburse the city for its costs in maintaining the account. The city may deduct from the escrow account its fees for inspections of the vacant buildings, any costs incurred by the city in securing the vacant building, any emergency costs it incurs with regard to the vacant building, and any other costs which it is otherwise authorized by law to deduct. If the vacant building is “regularly occupied” and no longer qualifies as a vacant building, any funds remaining in the escrow account, after all costs are subtracted, shall be returned to the current owner, owner’s agent, or the “owner/agent.” If the vacant building is not repaired, renovated, and “regularly occupied”, and becomes a dangerous building as defined by the city code, the city may apply the funds in the escrow account toward the repair or demolition of the building or toward such other action as the law allows.
    (1) For a vacant building that meets all of the following conditions: 1) Presently can be legally “regularly occupied,” 2) Is secured and all other necessary safety precautions have been taken, 3) Both the interior and exterior of the building and premises are maintained, and 4) Other than being vacant, complies with this division and all applicable laws, ordinances, and regulations, the monthly escrow is waived.
    (2) A new or existing building or structure undergoing significant construction progress on a continual basis without a triggering event other than remaining a vacant building for 12 months or more shall have the monthly escrow waived.
    (3) For all other vacant buildings, including buildings also designated as dangerous, the monthly escrow shall be $300.00.
    (b) Sale or transfer. Escrow funds shall not be refunded upon the sale or transfer of a vacant building unless the vacant building is “regularly occupied” and no longer qualifies as a vacant building. Nothing in this provision authorizes the sale or transfer of a vacant building that it is not lawful to otherwise sell or transfer. Persons desiring to be reimbursed for the escrow funds should address that issue with the persons or persons to whom the vacant building is being sold or otherwise transferred.

    Sec. 18-221. Inspections.
    A representative of the city building department with the assistance of the city fire department and/or fire marshal shall inspect or cause to be inspected every building or structure or part thereof reported as or observed to be unsafe or damaged, and if such is found to be a dangerous building as defined in this article, the building department shall commence proceedings to cause the repair, rehabilitation, demolition or removal of the building or structure.

    It seems the buildings future depends on what the fire marshall and building department recommends.

  18. Citizen Blogger
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    So, what’s the best case scenario given all the variables?

    Mark, does every reader of your site but me possess the structural engineering, real estate development, and financing expertise necessary to answer this question? Or are you asking us to participate in completely unfounded and baseless speculation, spread rumors, and otherwise confuse the issue?

  19. Jon
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    The Sheerzer was burned to a comparable extent as the Thompson. That building not only still stands, but is a valued part of the campus. If anything the Sheerzer was a more difficult restoration because it’s taller, has more square footage and more intricate masonry work.

    I understand why you and many other people think the Thompson Block is beyond saving. The knee jerk reaction in the Midwest for old buildings is to knock them down regardless of whether or not there is a plan to build something new on the site. Fire is such a traumatic event that it seals the deal in most people’s minds, even in so-called progressive places like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. However, there are lots of local examples of when fire hasn’t spelled the end of a building. The Forrest Arms Apts by Wayne State is one, but a better example is the Galston Apts on Michigan Avenue in southwest Detroit. That building was also comparably gutted by fire a few years ago but was completely rehabbed and is now occupied. So you’re telling me a bigger, burned building in what most of the world considers the ghetto of Detroit is worth restoring but not a comparably smaller structure in a vibrant Depot Town?

    More info on the Galston:
    http://www.modeldmedia.com/developmentnews/galston86.aspx

    The deciding factor is the vision of the person or group who controls the building. Where there is a will there is a way, and it appears for now that Stewart Beal has both. Putting up all of that scaffolding was not cheap, which leads me to believe, for the time being, that he is sincere about saving the building. And yet so many people are clamoring to knock it down. No one sees this as an opportunity to do anything but create another surface parking lot in what should be the city’s core. Why are you guys (and girls) so dead set on such immediate action? Why not let Beal have his chance to come up with a solution for this seemingly insurmountable setback? He wants to invest his money here, create jobs, density and economic opportunity in a place that badly needs it. I say open up your mind and give him half a chance.

    What bothers me is everyone is an armchair developer and suddenly has the expertise to decide a building’s future just by looking at its exterior. Experts have come forward and said it can be saved with enough money. There is a proven developer that is a big local stakeholder who wants to give it a shot. Yet, all people can think of are reasons to tell him why it can’t be done. How about brainstorming a few ideas for saving the building or at least turning it into a community asset in the mean time? Perhaps turning the scaffolding into a big, temporary public art project?

    And yes, my name is Jon Zemke. I am the author of that story and also someone who is tired of people who refuse to think creatively around here. This Midwest mindset is absolutely stifling.

  20. Larry Seven Larry
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Citizen Blogger. No one should express an opinion unless they have credentials.

  21. Larry Seven Larry
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    And, by the same logic, no one should file suit against their landlords, because regular people can’t possibly understand what’s safe and what’s not safe, never having built a building themselves.

  22. Larry Seven Larry
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    And this whole thing started with Mark mentioning that he HAD talked with someone in the construction business who expressed reservations.

  23. Karen
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Jon, under most circumstances, I’d be right there with you. I love attributing things that aren’t going well to the small-mindedness of the Michigander, and their Ziggy-like spiritual embrace of failure. But in this case I’m not seeing it. I’m just hearing people state their very real concerns about the prospects that Beal can pull it off. If he couldn’t even secure the building when it was standing, how in the hell is he going to keep the shell standing now that there’s nothing holing it together?

  24. Posted October 21, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Screw credentials, this is teh interwebs.

    I propose that we permanentize the scaffolding through an elaborate (but, in keeping with the original building, unornamented) system of flying buttresses. Perhaps one really huge buttress could extend across River St and function as an above-grade pedestrian crossing (aka raised walkway) for the inevitable hordes of tourists who will use the soon-to-be train to visit this wonder.

  25. kjc
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    but karen, it’s completely holed together!

    great typo. ;) also, a ziggy reference. overdue.

  26. dan
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    A symptom of Michiganders’ spiritual embrace of failure is Michiganders’ putting false hope in unworkable ideas which will most certainly fail. They both perpetuate each other, really. I guess that’s why some Michiganders hate it when visionary people with a sense of realism actually succeed — it illuminates the failure of the failure lovers.

  27. Curt Waugh
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Jeebus cripes, people. Michigan is not full folks with “false hope” who “embrace failure”. It’s full of the same damn people who live everywhere. Cut it with the exceptionalism. We have had both successes and failures. Just because this bizarre thing that was the auto industry no longer feeds us money like one of those inverted hamster water tanks doesn’t mean we’re just going to give up or that we seek out failure. We’re just regular folk, like everybody else.

    That said: Jon, there is a big fucking eyesore in the middle of Depot Town. I, and I’m sure many other people, want the eyesore gone one way or another. Some private interest holds the deed to the property. They and they alone are responsible for it, so stop trying to make it everybody else’s problem. I don’t give a rat’s ass if they build the Taj Mahal or level it and put in native plants. And I think you’ll find that most people don’t really want to take an interest in your precious bricks. We just want the damn streets open and safe.

    “Experts have come forward and said it can be saved with enough money.” Who’s money? Beale’s? Mine? How long does he have to come up with a plan? How long does Depot Town have to look like shit while we wait? What’s reasonable here? Do enlighten us.

    Depot Town (and all of Ypsi, for that matter) is FULL of historical structures. We can live without this one, ya know? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If Beale is serious, then this is a chance to build a new structure that could become tomorrow’s historical structure. Or he can dick around with some old walls.

  28. jorj
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Nah. Michigan, or at least S/E Michigan, embraces failure and false hope as a culture more than any other State I’ve lived in, to the point that individual success is, to some extant, thought of as inherantly evil. Don’t be a scab in the failure union, or you’ll get what’s coming to you.

  29. Posted October 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I’ve found that to be the case only rarely, and on an individual basis, jorj. Sounds like you need better friends.

  30. Ypsiman
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Sec. 50-67. Street obstructions.
    A person or persons shall not erect, construct, place or maintain any bumps, fences, gates, chains, bars, pipes, wood or metal horses or any other type of obstruction in or on any street, within the boundaries of the municipality. The word “street” as used in this article shall mean any roadway accessible to the public for vehicular traffic, including, but not limited to, private streets or access lanes, as well as all public streets and highways within the boundaries of the municipality.

  31. Posted October 21, 2009 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Lots of stuff to say…

    First, I don’t accept the idea that only those with advanced degrees in structural engineering and with experience in salvaging multi-level mid-1800’s facades should be allowed to participate in the conversation. As others have mentioned, the ever-growing tinker toy of Depot Town is now taking up a lane of traffic. Like it or not, it’s a public issue, even if it’s not a publicly owned building… And it kind of is a public building in a way, seeing as how the City took it from its former owner and facilitated the handoff to its new one… I feel the same way about the Starkweather House, which also appears to be rotting in the hands of the person the city handed it off to.

    Second, I didn’t just throw up this post because I want the thing torn down. I’d love to have the building saved. I really would. I moved back to Ypsi in part because of the historic buildings of Depot Town. And it would very much piss me off to have to some crappy new construction on that corner where our beautiful, old Civil War barrack once stood. And, yes, I did say beautiful. I know some people hate the old thing, and called it an eyesore, but I really did, and do still like looking at it. The point of the post, wasn’t to make the case that it should be torn down, but just to illustrate how the feasibility of financing the project could change depending on how the structure is dealt with.

    Third, I don’t know why a lot of people seem to be comfortable with the idea of just sitting back and letting the owner figure it out. With all due respect to the owner, if he couldn’t properly seal the building in the first place (from vagrants, arsonists and the curious), what makes you think that he can now keep the walls standing? Does the present owner have experience in saving buildings such as this one? Has he demonstrated good stewardship thus far? I don’t know the answers. I’m just asking.

    Four, arguing about the Michigan mindset of negativity in this case is just stupid. Positive thoughts don’t keep 40 foot tall stacks of bricks from falling over.

    I could go on, but I think that’s enough for now… The bottom line is that I want to save the building. I want it renovated. (I’d rather have it saved as is, but I could live with a tear down and rebuild using the same bricks.) And I want thriving businesses in it. How’s that going to happen, though? If the owner couldn’t finance the deal prior to the fire, how’s he going to do so now? My hope is that there’s a plan in place and that everyone is hustling to find the money to pull it of. What I fear, though, is that all the bricks will come tumbling down in mid-December, while we’re waiting.

  32. Ypsiman
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    My prediction is that Historic Equities Fund LLC declares banckruptcy by the New Year. And no sane person will touch the property.

    But that leaves a lot of people interested.

  33. Jiggs
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Beal has purchased a whole lot of property in Ypsi in the last year. Meanwhile, the Thompson block was allowed to rot, and subsequently burn down. I have a big problem with all of this and I imagine others do too. My vote is: sell all the properties purchased recently and put all of that money into the Thompson block. If Beal isn’t willing to do that, then it’s time to give up the illusion that it can be rebuilt by Beal. Let it go, move on. There was little progress (to say the least) made in three years, there is no reason to think that this project, as it stands, would move forward in a timely manner.

  34. Mark H.
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you on most points you make, Mark M., and the ones I’m not with you on are minor, secondary ones. Thanks for the public forum for this compelling local public concern to be debated. The question of the pile of bricks future will decided by market forces — can there be capital raised to make a building inside those walls of brick that will meet some market viability test? Despite Jon’s enthusiasm for the dream and his dis ‘ing of doubters, there’s nothing provincial about asking these questions. I don’t think Sheerzer was so badly damaged, but maybe it was; it certainly was a more sturdy building before its fire than Beal’s was before its fire.

    I’m not saying it needs to be torn down ASAP, and I’d be pleased to see it be rebuilt in the near future. But I am a betting man, and I know a good bet when I see one. Thus: I will bet drinks with any and all that the building is NOT rebuilt within the next decade; by “rebuilt” I mean using the existing walls of brick as an intrinsic part of a structure that resembles in its size, interior space, and exterior appearances the old Thompson building. I’d also add that the rebuilt building must be completed and in use before the end of the decade – Jan. 1, 2019.

    Obviously, this task is possible. My point is that it seems extremely unlikely as a business proposition. Beal couldn’t keep doors and windows on the old building, and now he’s gonna get capital for a much more massive job, and get it done?

  35. Posted October 22, 2009 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Ypsiman:

    “The word “street” as used in this article shall mean any roadway accessible to the public for vehicular traffic….”

    Since it’s blocked off, and therefore not “accessible to the public for vehicular traffic”, does that mean it’s no longer a “street” for purposes of the statute?

  36. Sven
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    You people are crazy. I can’t believe you’re suggesting that we (the public) sit back, keep our mouths shut, and have faith in Beal. Has Beal done anything right on this project? The place was left wide open, accessible to anyone. Bricks were constantly falling off. It was a hazard. But he was too busy trying to buy up the local residential rental market to be concerned. Instead of investing in the building, as he’d agreed to when it was given to him by the city, he went around collecting foreclosed homes. This was never high on his priority list, and I find it bewildering to hear those of you hear who are suggesting that we continue to trust his good judgment.

  37. Ypsiman
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    cmadler:

    No, it means Beal needs to get his crap off the public street and sidewalks.

  38. Posted October 22, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    According to AnnArbor.com, Beal says he is going to save the facade.

    http://www.annarbor.com/business-review/thompson-block-owner-works-to-shore-up-historic-facade-and-plan-next-steps/

  39. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    So, I’m just going to throw this out there. I just started renting from Beal, in a building he recently purchased, and so far he’s a pretty good landlord, as Ypsi Landlords go. The building is clean for it’s age, repairs and concerns are quickly addressed, the staff is cooperative, and the rent is reasonable. If this is the way he’s going to run things, I have no problems with him buying up realestate. It’s better than leaving forclosed properties in the hands of the bank or abandoned. And certainly better than the bad old days of Romain and Kircher.

    I’m not saying we should give the guy a pass, or that he’s this great guy, or that he hasn’t made his share of errors with the Thompson Block in the past. But I did speek to him over the summer about the building; before I rented from him, in a rondom meeting at the Tap Room. He seems to genuinely love the project and wanted to do right by it. Shouldn’t we give him the chance, and the benifiit of the doubt, at least for a little while?

  40. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Here it is folks, for good or bad, Mr. Beal says that he can save the facade, according to AA.com

    http://www.annarbor.com/business-review/thompson-block-owner-works-to-shore-up-historic-facade-and-plan-next-steps/

    I didn’t expect it. I thought Mark’s theory that it would be numbered, taken down and rebuilt would be more on the mark, meaning the scafolding would come down in the near future. I’m still not willing to condemn the guy as terrible or evil or a detrement to the city, but I do think we should hear a plan of action and an idea of when the streets are going to be cleared.

  41. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    While my link awaits moderation, there is an article on the Thompson Block on AA.com today. Let me just say that, I thought Mark’s theory of what the future would hold for the building was spot on; according to this article, that may not be the case. If that’s true we do deserve to know when we will get the streets back, and there should probably be some permits/payments to the city involved with the street closure, if there are not already.

  42. kjc
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    dang. well i guess we know one thing for sure. Cross St will be one lane indefinitely.

  43. the kingpin
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    What a bunch of bull…tear it down. Build a cool fountain or something with the bricks…put up some memorial sign…whatever. That building stood rotting since I moved here ten years ago. Time to move forward.

  44. Ypsiosaurus Wrecks
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Tear it down and build something useful. The glory days of that building were LONG gone. I’m sick of all this gooey nostalgia some people seem to ooze. Let’s move forward and not to cling to some broken down remnant of Ypsi’s past.

  45. Thomas
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    I love buildings with character, and for my money you can’t beat an old building for character. The phrase “they don’t build ’em that way anymore” resonates greatly with me. I love it when old buildings continue to be used, and are lovingly cared for and preserved. Nothing would have made me happier than to see a restored Thompson Building, anchoring the east end of Depot Town, something polished and historical, something to show off when friends and family visit, when folks come from out of town for Elvis Fest, or the Heritage Festival, or ride through on the upcoming train, joining the rest of the buildings in Depot Town in looking snazzy.

    What sits at the northeast corner of East Cross and North River streets, friends, is not that building. It’s a wreck, an eyesore and I’m damn surprised it hasn’t hurt anyone yet. I consider it a miracle that no one was hurt for as long as that building stood vacant, that no firefighter got hurt when the thing went up, and that the buildings immediately surrounding the building are still standing, and that the damn thing hasn’t fallen over in a cloud of old dust and scaffolding.

    The Thompson Block is gone. Pure and simple.

    It’s been gone at least three years, as long as I’ve lived here. I’m to understand from folks who’ve been in the area longer than I have that it’s been gone even longer. And I don’t know how it got to this state. Maybe Beal could have pulled it off before our current economic clusterfrak happened. Who knows? But that’s all in the past.

    What do I want at that corner? Well, it would sure be nice to have something pleasant to look at, something useful, something I’d like to show off to people. What I really want, though, is communication. A plan. Something backed by reality. I want goals. I want reports of progress on those goals. I want a cold hard look at what really can be done with what is there now.

    If they can save the facade and strap it on the outside of a new building and not have it be an eyesore or look like an accident waiting to happen, I am 100% behind it. I’d be tickled pink. If they can tear the thing apart brick by brick and use those bricks to make something new there, same thing. If they can tear the thing apart and sell the bricks as a fundraiser to allow them to build something nice there, I’m all for that too. Hell, any of the three options, I’ll sponsor a brick for $100, and I challenge each and every one of you that wants to keep the Thompson Block or elements from it around to do the same. Probably won’t make a dent in what it would take to do anything, but I’m at least that willing to put that much money where my mouth is.

    But if Beal can’t, if he can’t seriously stand before us and say he’s got the engineers that say it can be done, the builders who can do it, and the financing to make the whole thing go, if he can’t do that and make us believe it, tear it down. Let it finally go. Put the poor building to rest. Save some element from it (I nominate the fire alarm bell from the south wall of the building, tickles me pink every time I look at the picture I took of it after the fire), some architectural piece, something defining. Give it on loan to the Ypsilanti Historical Society. If someone ever manages to build something nice on that spot, give it back, let ’em put it in the lobby. Otherwise, level the thing, plant some grass, put in a few trees and some benches. Put a nice plaque there, with a picture of the building from it’s hayday. Call it the Thompson Block Park. Give us a cool place to sit on a warm summer’s day to think about what we once had, to ponder on how sometimes things go and we don’t want them to, but let us remember how it looked when it was grand.

    Just don’t make me look at the same burnt out building and pile of scaffolding a year from now.

  46. Brackinald Achery
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    If the scaffolding isn’t legally supposed to be in the road, can’t Riney ram his van through it with impunity?

  47. Posted October 22, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    What if a hot dog grill started the fire?

  48. Posted October 22, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    We should take matters into our own hands and have a Tear Down Thompson fest.

    Basically we just point a bunch of amplifiers at it, turn them all the way up, and play really loud.

    Down she goes.

  49. Oliva
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m sick of all this gooey nostalgia some people seem to ooze.

    There are the goo-oozers and the ones who matter-of-factly do not even accidentally leak goo, just don’t ever even feel it, know it (heard tell). Being sentimental makes getting things done messier, slower, and in the most worthwhile things it makes shortcuts out of things that are worth, that require, going the long way for. But still there’s a place for goo . . .

    But probably not anymore over there where the building’s facade leans worryingly, with supports that just don’ look too safe.

  50. Oliva
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Black Jake, appealing idea–clearing a path, so to speak, for next spring’s River Street cleanup, but this with local music. (How loud would it have to get for the rest of the building to come down, do you suppose? Much louder than the train–ah, or maybe not. Maybe we can blame it on the train if we time things just so.)

  51. Posted October 22, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Oh yeah, the train doesn’t do it and it’s pretty loud. Well, I guess I’m an idiot.

  52. kjc
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    haha. this thread is cracking me up. can you feel the sense of community?? i can, even among the disagreement. i mean, at least we all agree it’s a problem!

    once upon a time i liked sitting on the sidewalk in front of the building watching the sun set. it’s a great spot for that. i was really hopeful for something there but then over time, after living in the area for a while, and reading about the place (i actually discovered this blog by looking up info about the thompson block), i started to think ooooh, it’s never going to happen. as if that should have occurred to me already and maybe from the start. and i guess i continue to feel that way, without knowing beal or what kind of guy he is or what kind of prospects he has for actually financing it. i agree with mark h. and i agree with jon and they don’t exactly agree. because I *want* to hope it can be restored (i actually think it’s a cool looking building—or it was) but it seems like wanting and hoping are somehow contributing to inaction. i guess i’d need to know beal personally to know whether that’s part of his problem—-that his idea of action is *saying* it will be rebuilt. not rebuilding it. but i don’t know him so i don’t know. it’s like people on this blog who have annoyed me. i feel like if i met them in person, i might think they were great. and then i’d realize “oh you just act like a dick online.”

    in the meantime i still wish i could sit there and watch the sun set. it’s helped the eyesorish quality for me to think “tinker toy” and to know that others too wish something more were being done. i really don’t know what that more should be.

  53. Oliva
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    I’m starting to get it–this label idiot is a badge of honor around here.

  54. Oliva
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    i feel like if i met them in person, i might think they were great. and then i’d realize “oh you just act like a dick online.”

    Or an idiot.

    (kjc: By invoking the building’s simple and mysterious power at sunset, in memory and imagination–“once upon a time i liked sitting on the sidewalk in front of the building watching the sun set. it’s a great spot for that”–you narrow the seam between the two positions, from Mark H. to Jon, and help point out that we bring the heart; it’s good to bring in the heart, even if sometimes/often one gets ridiculed for being soft, gooey, or impractical. Even if bulldozing is in the cards, even if dollars and laws and such are very important matters, it’s greatly worth knowing how much that building means and has meant to people. May that part continue, even flourish–about this building and many other things. Anyway, it brought you to this blog–nice, because you are not a dick online!)

  55. Sven
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    What if we use the bricks from the Thompson building to dam up the river and create a lake in Depot Town? We could rent glass bottom boats. It would be cool to look down, into the murky water, and see fish swimming in and out of the Sidetrack and Aubree’s. We could rent scuba gear too. It would be great for the economy.

  56. Pete Murdock
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Sven –

    Which side of the lake would the boat house be located on?

    Pete

  57. Curt Waugh
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Plant trees to replace the several hundred that gave their lives for scaffolding and open “Ypsilanti’s Scaffold Memorial Park”.

    Leave it as-is and have that light-up billboard on the highway say, “Come see Ypsilanti’s inside-out building!”

    Do a deal with Sidetrack – “The Thompson Building Extra Lean Burger”. It’ll just be a ring of meat with nothing in the middle. Shove a bunch of toothpicks in the thing before bringing it to the table.

    (BA and Pete – you both made me laugh out loud. Good thing my door is closed. I sound like an idiot. Oliva, that was for you.)

  58. ytown
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    You’re all idiots!

  59. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Right back at you, ytown.

  60. ytown
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Thank you Andy!

    “I’m starting to get it–this label idiot is a badge of honor around here.”

  61. Early
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    What if we just dig up the parts of Depot Town that we like, move them to Water Street, and then dam up the river? That way we could still go to Sidetrack, Water Street would have functional businesses, and we’d have the lake community.

  62. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Eureka, Early! You have the answer. I work in the boating industry. I think this is a great idea. We loose Riverside and Frog Island parks, but we’re building a new park on Water Street in the spring any way. Maybe we can buy Argo Dam from A2, take it down brick by brick…. wait, isn’t this how this thread got started?

  63. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Who would have thought something that has folks so angry would yeild so much humor.

    Reading. Laughing.

    Wait, that’s someone else.

  64. Mark H.
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    That two level sidewalk just west of the Thompson block building was indeed, as has been observed, a great place for watching the sunset. Did so myself many times. Skate boarders also loved that sidewalk, for its challenges.

  65. ypsi chick
    Posted October 25, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Yea Jiggs way to become a freakin communist! Lets tell everyone what to do with their own money and lives! You want Beal to sell all his rental properties and ONLY own and work on the stupid Thompson block?? Hey, sounds like you should quit your own job and fun raise full time for the stupid freighthouse, how does that sound?

    Please, people like Jiggs are the reason why so many people with money stay away from the city of Ypsilanti…they don’t want to deal with a bunch of historical fanatics that have NO money of their own to buy these properties yet they have plently of time to bitch at anyone that does.

    And to Ypsiman and his city codes…this is another reason that many with money have not bought into the rental market here, the city is inconsistent with who they fine, don’t fine, what the let pass for some, but don’t let pass for others. So if you are so concerned with one landlord/builders progress/compliance I suggest that you look into ALL the landlords in town.

    Sounds like people in Ypsilanti just don’t want anyone to over succeed them, or to change the city for the better. I think everyone should step back and look at this from a business standpoint, not an emotional one. Ypsi needs to get less emotional about the historic buildings and once that happens, investments with flow into the historic district.

  66. Jon
    Posted October 26, 2009 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    Marh H – I will take you up on that bet if I can get odds. Give me 10-1 beers from Corner Brewery and you have yourself a bet. I’ll even double down on it with this. Say if it is torn down, I’ll give you 10-1 odds (beers) that nothing is built on that site within the next decade. You all are fooling yourselves thinking anything new will be built there with private money in the near future. These ideas of tearing it down and building something new on top of it are pure fantasy. That property will stay a blighted gravel lot filled with broken pint bottles and growing weeds long after the Thompson Block comes down.

    And the thing is, I don’t really care for the building. It’s nothing special architecturally and sits as sort of its own island of Depot Town there on the other side of tracks. I thought it was damaged beyond repair the day after the fire, and if I were the developer I probably would have taken the easy route of tearing it down and collecting the insurance money. I believe what’s left of it can be saved for two concrete reasons – 1) the owner appears determined to save it and 2) experts have said it can be saved. That building has a future as long as Beal continues spending thousands of dollars to prop those walls up. At the end of the day, its fate is in Beal’s hands and it looks like he has already made that decision regardless of what is being written here. It baffles me why so many of you are so dead set on working against someone who, bottom line, wants to invest in your community and make it a better place.

  67. Brackinald Achery
    Posted October 26, 2009 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    It baffles me why so many of you are so dead set on working against someone who, bottom line, wants to invest in your community and make it a better place.

    Because he’s probably not going to do anything with it but talk and stack bricks on pallets?

    That property will stay a blighted gravel lot filled with broken pint bottles and growing weeds long after the Thompson Block comes down.

    Awesome. Green light that idea. Just get the stuff out of the road and quit blowing smoke up our butts.

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] walls of unsupported brick. The owner of the building, Stuart Beal, within a few days, erected an enormous scaffold around the structure in order to support it, effectively closing off two lanes of traffic and a […]

  2. […] historic Thompson block burned down last fall, and how the building’s owner, Stuart Beal, had blocked up the streets with scaffolds in order to prevent what remained of the brick shell of the Civil War-era building from falling […]

  3. By What’s up with the Thompson Block? on April 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    […] posts. They begin on September 23, 2009, the day after the building was set ablaze. We’ve had lots of good posts about the Thompson Block since then, but I think my favorite was the one on November […]

  4. […] As for the building itself, I’ve never been convinced that it was structurally sound enough to be redeveloped, regardless of who was doing the job… Here’s a clip from a post I’d written shortly after the 2009 fire about the condition of the building. […]

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