One month from today, assuming you win the auction, you could be the proud owner of Ypsilanti’s Smith Furniture Building… If so, what’ll you do with it?


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
B-3 zoning
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?



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  1. josh
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    There was a carpet of moss growing before you took those pictures. You would have to pay me to take that place.

  2. anonymous
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Indoor farmers’ market.

  3. Robert
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    When I win the auction, I plan on opening a Mark Maynard Museum, dedicated primarily to the Dreamland puppet.

  4. james
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    The auctioneer apparently copied from a form- the address is 15 S. Washington- not “155 Washington”.

    The taxes on the building are $24k/yr. Repair/bringing it up to code is going to be a crazy amount of money. I am not seeing anyone willing ot put in that amount of money for a place that size in that location.

  5. Eel
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    I think it should be a dollar store. Ypsilanti, according to City Council, does not have enough.

  6. anonymous
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Mark Maynard Museum key components:

    1. World’s largest trough urinal.
    2. Ball Shaving Throughout History diorama series.
    3. Memorial for the White Slaves of Ypsilanti.
    4. Iggy Pop shooting up in Riverside Park hologram.
    5. Patrick Elkins’ preserved leg.
    6. Bar.
    7. Gift shop.

  7. Mr. Y
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Is there a minimum bid? They mention $25k in cash. Is that the floor? Might members of the community pool their money to raise that much? I don’t know how realistic it is, but there’s a month to work on something, and, unless I’m missing something, I don’t see how this building would be worth much to an outside investor. In other words, I don’t envision a crazy bidding war. Purchasing the building, however, is just the first step. Once bought, we’d have to find a way to make the necessary repairs.

  8. Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Before my business opened & I became a tenant (a thought I loathed & frankly still do), I fantasized about that building. Having my studio and several other related businesses in it: a healthy cafe, a produce place etc. – dreamy. But, yeah, his insanely myopic idea about how valuable that property was lead to its horrid demise. I wish I could be optimistic about it.

  9. double anonymous
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Why invest in local food when we can invest in Airtroplois?

  10. Stuart Beel
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Civil war soldiers could be housed in it retrospectively, which would allow me to keep it a decrepit eyesore in perpetuity.

  11. 734
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Is it conceivable that it won’t sell? If so, what happens? If the owner owes back taxes and fines, will it go to the city?

  12. Edward
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Thats a good question Mark. I’m confident the building will sell, but if it somehow has to be turned over to the City I hope they will transfer it to the hands of someone who can give it new life.

  13. Elliott
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Plasma center slash strip club

  14. Posted August 12, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I think I could get behind pretty much any proposal that had a fighting chance of saving the building and putting it to productive use. Unfortunately, the level of neglect is catastrophic and kind of sad — the first use will have to be as a holding tank for bleach. :(

  15. French Maidservant
    Posted August 13, 2013 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    I can’t imagine any kind of business that would work in downtown Ypsilanti that would justify the amount of money it would take to rehabilitate this building. I think we’re looking at our second Thompson block.

  16. James Madison
    Posted August 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Murph’s point, above, and I think it points to the need for greater public authority over private property that is being used (or not used!) in ways that harm the public good. The building should have acquired new owners and new purposes years ago, and the whole city suffers for that not having happened.

  17. koosh
    Posted August 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    beal can make it work. he can do anything he sets his mind to.

  18. Robert
    Posted August 25, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I like the Maynard Museum display ideas, anonymous. However, I would dedicate at least a quarter of the museum to Mark’s pioneering of re-segregation techniques and his heroism in choosing to close down the Shadow Art Fair rather than integrate. He took a stand that few would have had the courage to take in these times. Separatist groups all over the country will organize field trips to the museum (probably coinciding with Elvis Fest) and it would give an additional boost to the local economy.

  19. Robert
    Posted August 25, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Ypsi could also benefit from the protesters who would certainly show up in the thousands, wearing hoodies, demonstrating to have the museum shut down.

  20. Podróż
    Posted November 6, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Battle Creek tried Cereal City. We can try Mold Metropolis.

One Trackback

  1. […] As it was billed as a “no minimum bid” auction, I would have expected Ypsilanti’s long-neglected Smith Furniture building to be sold to the highest bidder this afternoon, regardless of how low that bid might have been. Apparently, though, that wasn’t the case. The highest bid, placed by Ann Arbor developer Phil Conlin, was rejected by the building’s owner, James Pate. Based on the report by reporter Tom Perkins, it would seem Pate wouldn’t have accepted anything less than $100,000, or twice what was bid by Conlin. According to the auctioneer, Jerry Helmer, who was interviewed by Perkins, $100,000 was what Pate would nave needed to pay the $60,000 he owes in back taxes and the cover the costs of the auction. So, until such time that the County initiates foreclosure proceedings, it looks as though we’re stuck with Pate, who, as we’ve discussed before, has repeatedly proven himself to be an impediment to development. […]

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