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Posted on Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Wedding plans disrupted after code violations yield 'potential for catastrophe' in Barnstormer's banquet hall

By Nathan Bomey


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 |

When soon-to-be-bride Annette Calhoun met Monday with wedding coordinators to finalize details of her ceremony and reception at the Barnstormer Entertainment Complex in Green Oak Township, the Saline resident expected to deliver the final head count for her June 18 wedding.

Instead, it turned out to be the first time that Calhoun and her fiance, Saline resident Steve Verhelle, found out that Barnstormer’s banquet hall — a popular wedding venue near Whitmore Lake — had closed due to numerous code violations discovered by township officials.


Inspectors say the Barnstormer Entertainment Complex in Green Oak Township should not be allowed to reopen its banquet rooms until "dangerous" conditions are fixed.

Nathan Bomey |

“I’m just sitting there in shock,” Calhoun said, describing the moment she was told her reception would have to move. “I was just flabbergasted. I’m just watching my wedding go down the toilet that I’ve planned for two years at this point. It just kept getting worse and worse.”

The closure of Barnstormer’s banquet hall reduces the Whitmore Lake business’ indoor capacity from 2,000 to 180 until the owner can complete renovations required by inspectors, Township Supervisor Mark St. Charles said.

Inspectors hired by the township recently delivered a 74-page report detailing numerous code violations and accusing Barnstormer of repeatedly flouting permitting requirements and various state regulations.

The banquet facilities at the 25,000-square-foot building on Nine Mile Road are dangerous and cannot be occupied until extensive renovations are completed, the inspectors said.

The situation threatens to disrupt a number of weddings and receptions scheduled to occur at the venue, which hosts up to 12 matrimonial events a month.

Barnstormer’s second story, where three separate rooms make up the banquet hall, is closed at least until a July 12 “dangerous building show cause hearing” scheduled to take place at the township hall.

St. Charles said there was “potential for a catastrophe” if an emergency were to occur and people had to exit the facility quickly.

“We have tried everything we can to work with the owner. We’re not making progress. The potential for loss of life in the event that there was some type of emergency — whether it be fire, natural disaster or somebody firing a gun or whatever, it doesn’t matter — is extensive.”

Rob Cortis, who owns Barnstormer, acknowledged that the building’s capacity had been restricted but said “no one’s ever told me” that the banquet hall was dangerous. He attributed the township’s crackdown to “a different person interpreting the ordinances.”

“From what’s been brought to my attention, there are some things that need to be corrected and we’re going to work on those items to get them corrected,” Cortis said. “We want to get through this.”

Cortis said that couples who have scheduled weddings or receptions in one of the banquet rooms can be moved outdoors or to the downstairs bar area, which continues to host the Crome night club. Otherwise, Barnstormer will work with couples to help them relocate their events, he said.


The 25,000-square-foot Barnstormer complex on Nine Mile Road has been expanded several times since 1982 without permits, according to a new report by township inspectors.

Nathan Bomey |

Asked 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.

Calhoun said she was left scrambling after Barnstormer’s manager told her Monday that she had to move her wedding and reception outdoors, without a tent, or downstairs to the venue’s bar area.

“Then they said, ‘Well maybe we can help you find somebody else, but it’s going to cost you more,’” she said.

She regarded that as a breach of her agreement with the venue and found herself looking for a new location.

Her sister-in-law, Daphne Slater, who is helping to manage the event, worked out a deal with the Ann Arbor Country Club and caterer PrimOvations, which collectively agreed to host and cater Calhoun’s wedding and reception with nearly 200 guests on short notice.

“It was wonderful,” Calhoun said. “Monday and Tuesday I was just in absolute shock and horror, I’m contemplating how am I going to call almost 200 wedding guests and tell them there’s no wedding?”

Now, she said, her priority is getting her $1,500 deposit refunded from Barnstormer. She said she hasn’t heard back about her request yet. Until then, she said, she’s borrowing money from family to compensate for the lost funds.

The inspectors’ report, obtained by, spells out a litany of “very troubling" violations at the 25,000-square-foot facility, a renovated barn that dates back more than a century.

The report states that, of about 15 additions or building changes since 1982, many “disregarded” public safety and were completed without permits or certificates of occupancy.

The inspectors also said that a 300-square-foot outdoor gazebo built without permits, inspections or approvals in 1995 has “leaning structural integrity problems.”

“Eventual collapse is expected,” the inspectors wrote.

The banquet area 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, the inspectors found.

“I think everybody was just blown away at the condition of the building,” St. Charles said. “We’ve tried to work with the guy. We are very pro-business and we’re very saddened that we have to take this position with a business, but again it’s the safety of patrons, the safety of residents.”

He predicted that the situation would probably end up in litigation.

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.

At the dangerous building hearing on July 12, a committee will 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. After the hearing, the township Board will have the authority to act further.

Cortis said Barnstormer would have to make a relatively significant investment to get up to code, though he declined to place a specific pricetag on the necessary upgrades.

A visit to the property on Friday showed that the fenced-in outdoors area behind the Barnstormer complex has grass that hasn’t been mowed in weeks, two snowmobiles parked in the middle of the lawn and pieces of garbage strewn about parts of the yard.

“We’re doing everything in our power to cooperate with the township,” Cortis said.

Cortis emphasized that Barnstormer continues to host weddings and receptions at the remaining parts of its facility that are open and outdoors.

“Some brides may be inconvenienced but most of the brides are happy that we’re working with them and that we’re dealing with them,” Cortis said.

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



Thu, Jun 16, 2011 : 3:06 a.m.

Here's a nugget from Livingston Daily: "Township records indicate a steady stream of fire and building code concerns and violations at Barnstormer since the 1980s. Officials claim Cortis, who has run the business for more than 20 years, has failed to make the complex safe for customers in recent years. A March 24 report concluded that the Barnstormer complex was "a very unsafe situation." The report suggested closing the entirely facility, then opening up only the bottom floor after progress on violations was made." Sounds like there may not have been a lapse on the part of the township, but who knows. I'd like to see the reports.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

I have to say, I have never liked this place--it's very dark and gloomy--the only way out I know of is through the front door. I have not had good experiences there and have been in the upstairs. The exterior is very unappealing. I don't like the clientele either and this is where the new "Chrome" nightclub is catering to 13-17 year olds. I've heard some very disturbing things from some of the kids who go to that "club." As a parent, my kids would never set foot in there and thankfully, they have no desire to go.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

Didn't Romney have a fund raiser there the last time he ran for President?


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

[quote]"We're not making progress. The potential for loss of life in the event that there was some type of emergency — whether it be fire, natural disaster or somebody firing a gun or whatever." Um, we all know that people love to fire their submachine guns into the air at weddings - but that's a tradition practiced mainly in places like Afghanistan. Maybe the owner of this place is merely trying to be, you know, "cross cultural." If so, he should be reminded that, here, there are other regulations governing the use of firearms - indoors and outdoors. Of course the above statement by a Whitmore Lake official leaves ya wondering what their building code looks like. It also appears that others are right to wonder why the condition of this facility was not acted on much earlier. Well, it can't be said that they don't let businesses run wild and free in that area. Sounds like a centerpiece for Gov. Snyder's "Free Enterprise" program. The slogan for that kind of Capitalism should be: Build it, out of kilter, without permits and with exit doors locked: and they will come!


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 3:04 p.m.

It's not a "Whitmore Lake" official--it is Green Oak Township with a "Brighton" address.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 1:20 p.m.

Why can't the paper say it is located in Hamburg? I think most A2 resident know where that is. Yeah, some people might consider it out in the middle of nowhere, but it is most certainly not Whitmore Lake and if anything, it is closer to Pinckney. Looked at the place for my wedding reception, it was garbage. Glad I went to Crystal Gardens. Township sounds like they have been letting that place slide on violations if it was incredibly bad this time around.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 3:02 p.m.

It's in Whitmore Lake, on M-36--Pinckney is 15 miles away.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 1:14 p.m.

Really? With a tacky name like "barnstormer" you expected class? You could move it to a wal-mart parking lot and nobody would notice the difference.


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 12:33 p.m. is made out of an old barn.

sun runner

Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 1:07 p.m.

For a chilling example of how poor construction practices and disregard for building codes may result in tragedy, please do read about the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire (1977). <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I doubt anyone wishes to have a repeat of that disaster, anywhere, anytime in the future.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 1:13 a.m.

My employer used to have parties there. The place wasn't so bad. It isn't a country club or anything, but people looking for reasonable accommodations could certainly do worst. I think this is another example of a small business getting the shaft. The Township's job is to inspect the place annually. If it was doing its job, there should be no reason the building is so unsafe. The owner out of the blue gets told he is possibly looking at his business being demolished. That isn't fair. If the wedding clients have anybody to be upset at it, it should be the township. Either it wasn't doing it's job before or the new people are being over zealous. If anybody should pay any additional cost for the weddings, it should be the township. Further, building inspections are big money for government entities. They are very totalitarian in nature.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 1:03 a.m.

I have done business with this Rob guy before (where he needs our business services). He is not a reputable business man and tries to get as much as possible for nothing. His priority is making money. He thinks he is slick and tries to trick you into things. I hope all the couples are able to find a place in time to hold their weddings and I feel that Barnstormer's should be responsible for the differences in charges of a different venue.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 10:57 p.m.

The owners of Barnstormer are the same ones that started the teen club in South Lyon that had HUGE problems with underage drinking, noise, and crime. Parents especially loved that they weren't allowed inside and that the club, which was for 13-17 year olds, advertised jello wrestling contests and bikini contests for the girls. Needless to say, the club wasn't open for too long, but from what I understand they opened one somewhere else. The impression I got from it all was that they were sort of sleazy owners (one of them got arrested at some point during the South Lyon club, I believe over a noise violation) and this story doesn't really surprise me.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

My best to Steve and Ann with whom I worked years ago at MCIT. Congrats guys on the wedding and good luck w/the planning.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

Fortunately for them the Ann Arbor Country Club and Primovations stepped in to save their special day on very short notice. I have been to the AACC and live in the neighborhood. It is a beautiful place for such events. And, the food is delicious.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 3:22 p.m.

that's what happens when you choose a trashy place for your wedding reception


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 2:20 p.m.

I would love to see the actual report, which probably includes photographs. FOIA request And what about the commenter stating required annual inspections, should anybody's head in town roll too?


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

The exterior of the building looks awful .... I can't imagine anyone wanting to have a wedding or reception there when there. Ick.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

It is sad that the owner would knowingly jepordize the safety of his employees and patrons.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

The State of Michigan Fire Prevention Code requires places of assembly to be inspected annually. Green Oaks Township &amp; State of Michigan ... you've got some 'splaining to do!!

average joe

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 12:57 p.m.

Never been inside the place- But just the look of the outside was enough to keep me away. I can't believe it held 2000 people, or the statement by the supervisor-"I think everybody was just blown away at the condition of the building," The township couldn't help but know of the violations for years. The assessor should have noted &quot;improvements(?) made without permit on file&quot; on multiple occasions.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 12:57 p.m.

Just because something was built without a permit, i.e. the township didn't get paid, doesn't automatically make it &quot;Dangerous&quot;!

Terry Star21

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 7:45 p.m.

@ swcornwell - your joking right ?


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 5:21 p.m.

But it does automatically make it ILLEGAL.

Go Blue

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 12:53 p.m.

Or the new inspectors are flexing their newly found authority and approaching this situation with a &quot;I'll show you&quot; attitude. Not uncommon and it happens often enough. The owner should hire his own building inspector and present the results to the township. If that report identifies everything the township inspectors indicated, so be it, and time to get busy making repairs and corrections. If not, then an investigation into why such dire actions are being instituted by the township. It does happen.

Terry Star21

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

A 74 page report listing Building Code and OSHA violations is by no means a flexing authority', 'show attitude'. This team is a profession engineering and structural inspection group, and it is an insult to say other words. Their chief discipline are OSHA (Occupational Safety and Hazard) and should be commended for the actions.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 1:24 p.m.

No doubt sometimes those given a little authority like to let others know they have that authority. However it sounds like this owner is not interested in running a legitimate safe business. It would be idiotic to wait until a tragedy happens to enforce existing codes! The Station nightclub fire was the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in American history, killing 100 people. The fire began at 11:07 PM EST, on Thursday, February 20, 2003 Just before midnight on September 21, 2008 the Wuwang Club located in Shenzhen, People's Republic of China caught fire. 43 people were killed and another 88 were injured. The Beverly Hills Supper Club fire is the third deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history. It occurred on the night of May 28, 1977, during the Memorial Day weekend. 165 persons died and over 200 were injured as a result of the blaze. Need I list more????


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 12:30 p.m.

Sounds to me like Barn Stomers needs to pay the last minute costs of the wedding.. and if they do not .. I would make sure everyone I talked to heard about it, I would file a compliant with the better business bureau, letters to the editors, and maybe even facebook.. it is two weeks till your wedding and they are the ones who dropped the ball.!

The Watchman

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 12:28 p.m.

I can see how this should be the lead story for a Sunday edition. Holy cow, with all that is going on, this is what Ann leads with. Bring back the Ann Arbor News.

Terry Star21

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 7:35 p.m.

@ Watchman.....Any potential injury or loss of life situation in our immediate area, especially that patrons and the public are unaware of is 'The Lead Story'. Whether or not the township may or may not been able to handle this inspection, they did the right thing by asking for help from professionals


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 1:12 p.m.

What they need to &quot;bring&quot; is a way to conveniently lose comments that fall into the waste of space category! If you were involved in the planning of your daughters wedding you might feel different! And if not, then I doubt you would be asked for any help anyway. This article is no doubt the FIRST notice many will get that their plans are in serious jeopardy. Kudos to for alerting those that can now make alternate plans.


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 10:38 a.m.

Based on the article, the township has been grossly negligent in its enforcement duties for years...

Steve Hendel

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 12:15 p.m.