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Posted on Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 1:55 p.m.

Couples say they haven't been refunded deposits after inspectors shutter Barnstormer wedding hall

By Nathan Bomey

Three couples told they have not received a full refund on their deposits after an Ann Arbor area wedding destination’s banquet hall was forced to close when officials declared a “potential for catastrophe” at the popular venue.

After published a story Sunday reporting the details of a 74-page report delivered by outside inspectors hired to examine Barnstormer Entertainment Complex in Green Oak Township, more couples emerged to discuss how their wedding plans were disrupted, too.

Brian Snyder of Ypsilanti said he and his now-wife, Mary Snyder were told April 30 that Barnstormer could not hold their May 6 wedding reception as previously scheduled in its upstairs banquet hall.

“We’re very shocked to hear that people are still hearing about this,” Brian Snyder said today. “It’s like they did this on purpose to keep the money.”

He added: “We didn’t want to see more people get burned like that. … They told us they were going to tell (all affected couples) that week. People would have had time to do things had they done that.”


Brian and Mary Snyder agreed to move their reception outdoors after inspectors forced Barnstormer Entertainment Complex to close its banquet hall.

Photo courtesy of Brian and Mary Snyder

Whitmore Lake resident Adam Myers said today that he and his then-fiancee, Amber, were told on May 6 that their May 20 wedding could not be held in the banquet hall. He said the owner told them Barnstormer would find a tent and set it up by May 13 to accommodate the couple's wedding and reception.

A week before the wedding, “they told us they couldn’t get a tent because they couldn’t get the right permit or whatever,” Myers said. “We feel like we were completely misled.”

The couple weren’t willing to risk an outdoor wedding in May in Michigan without a tent. So they secured a new, more expensive location, Tyrone Hills Golf Course in Fenton, which was able to accommodate their wedding.

Myers said they had placed a $2,000 deposit with Barnstormer. He said that after their plans were disrupted, Barnstormer agreed to deliver a chocolate fountain and a cake for the wedding at Tyrone Hills — which did happen. Myers said that Barnstormer still owed $800 but that the couple agreed to reduce the amount owed to $500.


Annette Calhoun, right, stands with her fiance, Steve Verhelle, at their residence in Saline. The couple recently had to relocate their wedding reception from the Barnstormer Entertainment Complex on short notice due to numerous code violations discovered by township officials.

Angela J. Cesere |

"We had to work out an agreement that when he got some check by the end of the month through some promotion he did, then he would have the rest of the money to pay our our deposit," Myers said.

“We were trying to work with them,” Myers said. “You just want to be out of it and move on from it. He agreed to pay us $500, but we haven’t heard from him. We’re still waiting for the check.”

The Snyders, meanwhile, had already deposited $4,000 for their May 6 wedding when they found out about the banquet hall’s closure. They were set to pay an additional $4,000 to complete their required payment on the wedding reception, but Brian Snyder said Barnstormer agreed to waive the additional $4,000 after their wedding had to be moved outside to the fenced-in area behind the facility.

But moving the wedding outdoors to a concrete patio turned out to be a mess.

“During our wedding itself, it rained and poured,” Snyder said. “It came down big time. Basically my wife’s dress got ruined because outside the ground was wet. Dragging on that wet and dirty ground, the wedding dress got destroyed. It can’t be cleaned.”

Barnstormer had promised a 100-foot-by-30-foot tent but delivered an 80-foot-by-30-foot tent, Snyder said.

“It was really tight inside,” he said.

Rob Cortis, Barnstormer's owner, did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment today.

Asked last week whether Barnstormer had informed future wedding couples that the venue’s capacity had been restricted, he first said: “We are informing and dealing with the potential customers in the order of their functions, getting one function taken care of and moving on to the next one. We are letting them known that we have to do a room change. We’re working in every capacity to accommodate, assist and direct the bride in their room changes.”

Later in the interview, he said he had “already talked to some of the customers” with events scheduled in July, August and September.

“We’re keeping them posted,” he said.

Part of Barnstormer's appeal, couples say, was that it offered a full package that included wedding, reception, decorations, cake, a DJ and champagne.

"It was like a one-stop shop," Myers said. "We can just show up and they'll have everything ready."

Saline resident Annette Calhoun and her fiance, Steve Verhelle, told last week that they are still waiting to receive a refund on their $1,500 deposit for their June 18 wedding at Barnstormer.

They said they were told about the banquet hall’s closure on June 6. They were able to secure a new destination and caterer for their wedding — Ann Arbor Country Club with PrimOvations — but they had to borrow money from family members to make up for the lost deposit.

Inspectors hired by the township found that the 25,000-square-foot Barnstormer facility’s banquet hall has insufficient exits and emergency lighting, exit doors locked with dead bolts, lack of enough level flooring and stairways that are too narrow to make for a safe exit in the event of an emergency.

A review of township records showed that multiple expansions had occurred without permits or certificates of occupancy, the officials found.

The inspectors — Integrity Diagnostics' Dale G. Stevens and WRJ Associates' Wayne R. Jewell, both hired by the township — recommended that the entire business be temporarily shut down and forced to stay closed until fire inspectors can examine the facility and renovations are complete.

That should include “the redesign of the entire facility with the primary goal of reconstructing the entire facility to meet the minimum requirements” of state building codes, the inspectors wrote.

A hearing is scheduled for July 12 to allow Barnstormer “to show cause why the building or structures should not be ordered demolished or renovated and made safe,” Greek Oak Township interim building official Wayne Jewell wrote in a notice sent to Barnstormer last week.

After the hearing, the township Board will have the authority to take action.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


Nancy Marble

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 6:58 p.m.

My daughter had a Sept.24, wedding reception planned for Barnstormer......We have never been contacted by them ...we only found out from other wedding planners......when I got through to them I was lied to and told everything would be fine by Sept. and not to worry...after many more calls I contacted the Superentindents office of Green Oak Township....After hearing what he had to say there was no way we would put over 200 people in danger....the entire banquet floor was closed down and as of June no repairs had been made.....the issue now is not whether local government was slow to move but to straighten out the mess created by Mr. Cortis without any loss of life or putting people in a very unsafe situation...thank God something is being done now....deposits were being taken under false pretences and the money is gone.....good luck to everyone caught in this situation....


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 5:54 p.m.

Inspection policies and personnel in the Green Oak Twp office have changed drastically over the 20+ years that Barnstormer has been in operation. What was deemed appropriate to one set of elected officials some year ago, is now condemned by a newer set of politically motivated twp elders. While the Barnstormer setup is not ideal, it is all-inclusive, and a potential money-saver for those couples wanting to wed without need for much hassel or intevention on their part. This story talks about a few unfortunate couples who have been caught in a cross-fire between local authorities and the ownership of Barnstormer - a Hatfield/McCoy fued that has been raging for more than two decades - but fails to mention the hundreds of happily married couples who have been married at Barnstormer since the Clinton administration. The contract that the couples signed when they made their initial arrangements with Barnstormer state that the deposit shall not be refundable if the couple backs out, or if Barnstormer is unable to fulfill its end of the bargain provided that Barstormer make every effort to find a suitable replacement venue or accomodation for the event. I assume that the banquet staff at the Barnstormer is making every effort to facilitate each event that crosses their bookings. How else would they have survived two decades of operation? I further assume that the staff have the best intentions of their clients in mind, else we would have surely heard many more disgruntled voices over the last two score years. Complaints? Tell me of an establishment that has not had a complaint about them by someone of the general populace, please. I want to do business there. Oh, and, by the way, Barnstormer has a Whitmore Lake mailing address. Which is in Washtenaw county. You know that county - they have their own way of doing things.

John B.

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 6:02 p.m.

Interesting. Thanks. I imagine that there is more to this story. only cares about controversy, which equates to page hits, which equals advertising income. I'm not sure I would sign any contract that included a non-refundable 50% deposit, however, personally. A score is twenty, fwiw, so two score would be forty (years), not two decades.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 5:23 p.m.

i am a bride of theirs. my wedding is in september they didnt call me i had to contact them. they told me i cant have my money back. the township officials are new and are doing things right it isnt there fault the people in the position before them let it go and at least it is now getting fixed.

John B.

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 5:50 p.m.

Now here's a case where you might want to consider a lawsuit. Does your contract with him say that the deposit is refundable or non-refundable?


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

Seems like a real conflict of interest when the interim building official (Wayne Jewell) is able to hire Wayne R. Jewell as 1 of the 2 inspectors. I imagine it's possible Wayne Jewell and Wayne R. Jewell are 2 different people (hence the use of the middle initial to differentiate bwtween the 2), but is it common for someone in government (interim or otherwise) to double-dip like that?

John B.

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

I saw that too. Hmmmm.... Sure, conflicts of interest are pretty common in small-town American Gov't., I'm afraid. That's minor compared to drug-dealing sheriffs running towns as personal fiefdoms (for example - and I'm not implying that happens anywhere in Michigan).


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

were township officials sitting on their hands over the years while these violations were in the process of occurring?OR WAS SOMETHING ELSE GOING ON?


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

With so much of this work done without permits it can be certain that electrical wiring was involved. Nat'l Electrical Codes are written by the Fire Prevention commitees on a national level. It is very fortunate that a fire never did break out during an event. Headlines of horrendous injury and multiple deaths at a wedding did not occur. Barnstormer surely should have had these deposits refunded immediately with apologies and some sort of incentive to remain a thriving business. This really gives the establishment a bad name for future patrons. Their loss not ours.

John B.

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 6:03 p.m.

I think you may be over-reacting a bit. I suspect there is more to this story.

Bertha Venation

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:59 p.m.

Can these folks sue for their deposits, or is there another action they can take? It doesn't seem fair that they should have to wait for their deposits. Also, they should get interest.

Bertha Venation

Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

Thanks, John. Good points.

John B.

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

Sure, they can sue, but it may be counter-productive. It sounds like the owner is at least trying to work things out with his customers. If you sued him, that would stop immediately. Interest? Good luck. Even if that were possible, with consumer interest rates at about .1% on savings accounts these days, the interest would amount to perhaps 83 cents per event!


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:17 p.m.

Yet another reason to steer clear of Livingston County. They have their "own way" of doing things there, and that way is typically bad.

Jake C

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:34 a.m.

This is an interesting story. But mostly it brings up more questions. I'd just like a little information about what the regular building inspection procedures are in the various Ann Arbor municipalities. Do building inspectors check commercial locations on a regular basis to make sure they haven't made unapproved additions? And that their fire exits and emergency procedures are up to code? Do they wait for complaints from neighbors? Or do they simply assume that everyone will file the necessary permits (and pay the necessary cash) any time they want to make a building modification? Or do we only send out restaurant inspectors annually to places that serve food, to make sure food prep & service is safe?


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 1:56 p.m.

Ann Arbor News used to give the restaurant inspection reports.....not Dumpsters, Commercial trucks, Lumber, and Construction materials are surely evident during these unethical remodels done on the cheap. These owners just don't seem to care about the safety and more about the $$$$$


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:06 a.m.

I'd like to see the actual report... it sounds like they have expanded without permits a number of times. It's not clear based on these reports whether these issues had been identified in the past and not acted on, or whether they're new. At any rate, the building's either safe or it isn't, and if it isn't, it shouldn't be operating.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 11:09 p.m.

The Township is def responsable for this mess. This establishment has been operating for more than 10yrs, the Township just decided to take them out of operation?


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

Certainly the Barnstormer management and owner are responsible for this mess. But, why and how did the township allow it to get to this point???? Sure sounds like their building inspection process needs to be fixed.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:40 p.m.

You are correct it is the owners responsibility. However, the township appears to have an inspection process in place and they were apparently aware of the issues. This should have been nipped in the bud a long time ago. Additions don't appear over night. The township had to know. Unfortunately some property owners will take every measure to avoid any oversight by local government. No doubt a reason why this place is a cobbled mess. Get the building fixed and the inspection process as well.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

I think it's the owner's responsibility to follow code, not the township's. It's not like all the rules and regulations weren't publicly available. If they chose not to follow procedures and it wasn't caught until now, unfortunate... but it's not as though they couldn't have known what the rules were.