It looks as though Ypsi’s long neglected Smith Furniture Building (15 South Washington Street), after years of sitting idle in the hands of a local property speculator, may finally be coming back in play. After years of urging by the City, James Pate, the owner of the 25,000 square foot building, which was originally constructed in 1965, has agreed to put the property up for auction. If all goes according to plan, the auction will happen at the building on Wednesday, September 11, at 1:00 PM. You can find all of the details on the the auctioneer’s website, but here are the main points, as outlined on the flyer that I picked up earlier today advertising the sale.
14,000 square foot first floor
11,000 square foot second floor
106′ wide x 132′ deep
Steel skeleton, Elevator, Concrete floors, Free-standing sign
2013 state equalized value: $364,000
Tax Parcel Number: 111-11-39-101-017
Tours of the building can be arranged by appointment. Interested parties should call 734.368.1734.
Terms: A $25,000 deposit is due on the day of sale (cashier’s check or cash only). The balance must then be paid in full within the following 30 days. Purchaser must sign a sales agreement on the day of sale. This real estate is sold ‘as is’ with no contingencies. Seller must furnish title insurance and warranty deed. Property sold free and clear of all liens, encumbrances, and back taxes, if any. Taxes will be pro-rated to the day of closing on a due date basis.
Disclosure: This building needs considerable improvements: Repairs and upgrades must be done to meet Ypsilanti City codes, prior to occupancy, such as roof, electrical, plumbing, heating, drywall, ceiling tile, central air, flooring and possibly more.
Note: A 10% “buyers premium” will be charged to purchaser, in addition to the purchase price.
I don’t know the specifics, but, if I had to guess, I’d say that the Mr. Pate was motivated to finally sell the property as a result of the City’s stepped-up campaign against him, which began in earnest about a year ago with various court orders and fines being levied against him in response to the building’s accelerating decay, which had become increasingly evident. (The signs of water damage and mold are clear in the photos I took this morning, which you can see below.)
Several people, from what I understand, have tried to lease or purchase the building from Pate in years past, with no luck. I was tangentially associated with one such attempt. In 2008, I was working with the regional economic development group Ann Arbor Spark on their plans to launch a business incubator in Ypsilanti. My role was fairly limited, but I sat in on a few meetings, and made a suggestion or two. Among other things, I proposed that they look at both the Smith Furniture Building, and 215 West Michigan Avenue, which Eric and Karen Maurer had, at that point in time, just started renovating. I warned them that Pate had a reputation for being difficult, but they liked the building, and tried everything they could to make it work. After several months in negotiations with Pate, which apparently led nowhere, they ended up going with 215 West Michigan, where their incubator facility is still located today… Pate’s loss was the Maurer’s gain.
Having never talked with Pate personally, I don’t know why he’s never acted on any of the proposals that have come his way. From what I gather, having talked with several people, however, is that he’s always felt as though the property was worth a great deal more than it actually was… and he stubbornly held on, hoping that one day the market would turn around in Ypsi, and that he’d be able to sell the building, one of the City’s largest, for a great deal of money. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it played out. Instead of working with Spark, or one of his other suiters, the owner held on as the building decayed, and our downtown suffered as a result… At least that’s my sense, given what I’ve heard over the years… And, now, given the condition of the building, my guess is that he’ll be lucky to break $100,000 when the building goes up for auction.
My hope is that other land speculators out there take notice, and act accordingly. (And, yes, I’m looking at you, Dennis Dahlman.)
As for what to do with the building, assuming someone with the resources to fix it up does purchase it, I’d suggest something like Milwaukee’s Public Market, perhaps incorporating a food incubator. It could be transformative for our community, and, if I’m not mistaken, there may even be state and federal funds available to make it happen. At least I seem to recall hearing not too long ago that there was a group with state backing that was looking to build a facility for food-based entrepreneurs in Ypsi. Assuming they’re still looking, might this not be the perfect place?