As you know, the historic Civil War barrack here in Ypsi, commonly referred to as the Thompson Block, was set ablaze almost three months ago, leaving towering 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 stretch of sidewalk in the process. And that’s the way things have been for a few months now.
On November 6, the City Manager, Ed Koryzno, had a letter delivered to Beal, asking what his intentions were – whether he was going to take the structure down, or somehow secure the facade in a more permanent fashion. He was given ten days. Then, on November 24, another letter went out from the City Manager’s office, stating that Mr. Beal had not complied with the order. Which brings us to December 11, when Mr. Beal asked the City for for a 45 day extension. And, right about now, I believe, our City Council members are sitting across town, deciding what should be done… Among the other things they’re considering, no doubt, is this letter from Jim Karnopp, the owner of Depot Town’s Cafe Luwak.
Members of City Council,
After sending my letter to you on Friday, Stuart Beal came to see me to discuss the issue on Saturday. He explained that he needed the additional 45 days to determine the best plan for saving the building, but that he would have 2-way traffic flowing on Cross Street within 15 days. I told Mr. Beal I would support that, and he asked that I send the four of you another letter stating that.
I have heard several arguments against giving him the extension, but the fact is we need the street open to two way traffic. If we can get that in 15 days that is better than waiting for the outcome of a court battle. In my discussions with several of my neighbors, the opinion is that we will agree to the 45 days and the road will be closed the entire time. To this I would say that there has to be a rock solid guarantee that the road has to be open to two way traffic in 15 days, otherwise all bets are off. The businesses in Depot Town are struggling, so I would even push to get the road open in less than 15 days. My business will pick up once the traffic returns, but the retailers have missed the entire Christmas shopping season. Retailers rely on Christmas sales to get through the first quarter. I have done some work in construction before, and it is amazing what you can get done with enough people, and if you are willing to put in a few extra hours. I am pretty sure I could even come up with some volunteers to help. There are a number of people in town who have mentioned being willing to take their 4×4’s and some chain to open the street now, so if labor is an issue, I will be willing to roll up my sleeves for the greater good. I am sure others will too.
If City Council doesn’t approve the 45 day extension, I am afraid that nothing will get done anytime soon. I am not sure how the legal process works in a case like this, but my guess is that it will be pretty slow, and I doubt Beal will make any progress while the issue is in court. The City is already looking at losing some businesses in Depot Town, and if we can get the street open in two weeks then we might be able to save some of them. If we could get two way traffic by this weekend we might even be able to get one weekend of Christmas retail in.
I would also like to mention that I found the quotes from Beal in the AnnArbor.com article that came out today very disappointing. Stuart came across as being extremely insensitive to the local businesses in my opinion. One of his quotes was “Beal added he sympathizes with the business owners, but believes they should take the long view and see saving the Thompson Block building can only improve the district.” It is very hard for a lot of the businesses to take a long view when they are facing going out of business in the next couple of months. The Thompson block isn’t going to improve the district by wiping it out first. In fact allowing that to happen would make any business that would ever think about locating in the Thompson block or Ypsilanti think twice before doing so. The City needs to show that they are supportive of their businesses. If Beal says he can commit to opening the street up to two way traffic in 15 days, then he already knows how to do it, and it is just a matter of taking the action and getting it done.
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.
I really do appreciate your attention and concern on these issues. I don’t envy the position you are in, and I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes. I don’t want to be someone who complains without being part of the solution, so if there is anything I can do to help bring this to a resolution quickly, please let me know.
Jim Karnopp – Owner
And I wasn’t going to mention it, but, as the Ypsi Citizen has already brought it up, it looks as though Jim is looking to either sell Cafe Luwak, or bring on a partner. It seems as though running a restaurant in addition to having a full-time job, and five years of work with only a few days off is beginning to take it’s toll. So, if you know someone good – perhaps someone who manages a restaurant elsewhere, who is looking to open a place of his or her own – put in a good word for Luwak. With a five year track record, there’s an existing client base to build on, which I have to think would be worth quite a bit in an industry where most businesses don’t make it one year… And, of course, as you know, Ypsi is the center of the universe.