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 AnnArbor.com 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 cover the costs associated with 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.
Over the 21 years Pate has owned the building, he’s rebuffed several credible suitors, always insisting that the building was worth considerably more than they were willing to pay. And, all the while, the empty building continued to decay. (Let this be a lesson to any of you would-be land speculators out there.)
Conlin, from what I’ve heard, was given an opportunity to bid higher, but refused… Which brings me to what I’d like to talk about today.
First, by way of background, here’s a clip from the AnnArbor.com story.
…After the auction, Conlin said he considered the Smith building because of some of its attractive selling points.
“There’s a lot of square footage for the price,” he said. “It’s in a good downtown location and it’s fairly well built.”
Conlin said he was surprised no one bid higher than him, though he didn’t want to bid more because of what he called Pate’s relationship with the city.
“Mostly, there’s a lot of hostility between the city and property owner, and it takes a lot of city cooperation to put together a quality development,” he said. “That’s not there, so it’s a little scary.”
“I’m not an Ypsi guy,” he added….
Two things. First, what do you think Conlin meant when he said, “I’m not an Ypsi guy”? And, second, how would Pate’s relationship with the City, regardless of how bad it may be, impact Conlin’s development of the property, assuming that he were to buy it outright from Pate?
Am I reading Conlin’s comment incorrectly, or does it sound as though he’s saying that he, as the new owner, wouldn’t have been able to develop the building because of what’s transpired over the past 21 years between Pate and the City? And, if that is what he’s saying, how do we address that? I mean, my perception is that the City would bend over backwards to make something positive happen with this building, and it really surprises me to hear someone say that, in his opinion, the City would allow their displeasure with Pate to impact the development of the property, even after the former owner is out of the picture. Something about that just doesn’t make sense to me. But I wasn’t at the auction, and I don’t know how things went down. Judging solely from his “I’m not an Ypsi guy” comment, though, I’m wondering if maybe he just freaked out after spending an afternoon here, to the point where he thought, “You know, I really don’t want to be any part of this.” And, if that’s the case, I think we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and think about how we portray ourselves to outside investors.
I hope I’m reading this wrong… Please tell me if I am… That, “I’m not an Ypsi guy” comment, though, just really concerns me. Again, I may be reading too much into it, but what it says to me is, “Y’alls crazy.”
update: I just learned that Pate apparently made a million dollars on the sale of a property 14 years ago. Apparently he owned a parcel along Michigan Avenue that was purchased by the City when putting together the colossal boondoggle we now know as the Water Street Redevelopment Project. So, one would think, Mr. Pate likely has the money to pay his back taxes… All the more reason to be angry with him over all of this.