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Posted on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Officials: Ypsilanti's ex-Smith Furniture building owner disregards city order for repairs

By Katrease Stafford


Ypsilanti's Building and Safety department staff hired a structural engineer to review the "structural integrity" of the former Smith Furniture building at 15 S. Washington.

Tom Perkins | For

The owner of the former Smith Furniture building in Ypsilanti has continued to ignore city notices and has yet to fulfill a December order to repair the roof and remove a severe mold infestation from the property.

Owner James Pate could now face additional recourse from the city.

Pate has not responded to several city notices or citations over the past few years, according to city staff. The property is at 15 S. Washington.

On Dec. 18, 2012, Pate was given 30 days from the order to obtain a permit to repair the roof and it was decided the work must be completed within 90 days of the permit issuance. Work has yet to begin on the property.

Pate could not be reached for comment.

Building Department Manager Frank Daniels said the city has repeatedly tried to reach out to Pate, but he has not responded to letters or postings. Pate also did not show up for the Dec. 18 hearing.

"I've been with the city for 17 years and it's been vacant for almost the entire time I've been here," Daniels said.

Since 2006, Pate has received four code enforcement violations from the city, according to assessor records.

Pate pulled one permit in February 2012 to do electrical work on the building, but city records show he "shut down the project and asked that the permit be canceled."

As of Monday, Washtenaw County records show Pate is delinquent in both his 2011 and 2012 taxes. Pate owes $46,520.65. As time progresses, Pate's tax bill will increase. If he doesn't pay by June 28, Pate's tax bill could increase to more than $55,000.


This photo shows a roof opening, where water likely seeps in through.

Courtesy Thomas Fitzpatrick

The city hired a structural engineer, Thomas R. Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick Structural Engineering, to assess the property on March 15, 2013. John Roe of the Ypsilanti Fire Department accompanied Daniels and Fitzpatrick on the inspection.

"A great deal of water infiltration into the building was observed," Fitzpatrick wrote in his report to the city. "There are a multitude of buckets on the first floor and second floor collecting water as it filters down from the roof inside the building."

According to Fitzpatrick, the building is not heated and is not ventilated, which has caused additional moisture problems to occur from condensation.

"The first floor carpet supports organic growth of moss/grass due to the constant wetting,"Fitzpatrick wrote. "It appeared to be raining at some locations. The magnitude of the water infiltration is extremely harmful to the steel structural elements over time."

Fitzpatrick observed that the roof decking system where exposed is in very poor condition and he is recommending the entire roof deck be replaced with a galvanized steel roof deck.

"Obviously the roof membrane has failed which has in turn caused day lighting in the gypsum deck and failure of the soft insulation board," Fitzpatrick wrote. "This condition can be considered as typical for the decking given the amount of water infiltration into the lower floor level. It certainly makes the roof deck totally ineffective in providing even marginal diaphragm support for the structure."

The joists and beams of the building have varying degrees of rusting, according to Fitzpatrick.

"The concrete column base shows apparent severe cracking," Fitzpatrick wrote. "...This condition is most likely due to moisture... In any case, the cracking will permit undesirable water penetration into this element allowing damage to any embedded steel."

Fitzpatrick informed the city that there could be severe, hidden deterioration that may not be visible.

"To that end, the entire ceiling should be removed from both the roof and second floor and proper lifts or ladders provided for close inspection of all elements," Fitzpatrick wrote.

Fitzpatrick made several recommendations for the structure, including some of the following:

  • Steel joists, beams and columns- the degree of corrosion of each of these elements should be evaluated for both floor and roof.
  • Floor anchorage- the anchorage of the floors into the north and south exterior masonry walls are critical to the stability of the overall building. He's recommending the anchorage be verified if possible and any indicated corrective measure should be taken.
  • Floor integrity- the integrity of the floor decking should be evaluated because a great deal of water has been seeping down through the floor system which could be causing deterioration of the concrete deck.
  • Ventilate- Some sort of ventilation system be installed to prevent further deterioration.
  • Periodic inspection-A yearly inspection of the building as long as it remains unoccupied.

Daniels said the city's next step will be to reach out to contractors to obtain an estimate on what the costs of the recommended repairs will be.

"If the contractors come back with bids that could be as high as $100,000, we don’t have money to do it," Daniels said. "It could very well come back that high. The one estimate we received was $60,000 or $70,000 and that was before the report was completed."


The photo shows damage to a column cover located on the east portion of the building. Fitzpatrick also noted the cracked pedestal.

Courtesy Thomas Fitzpatrick

Daniels said the next step would be to potentially go to court to try to have a receiver appointed for the property.

"I don't know how long this whole process could take," Daniels said.

Pate purchased the building in 1992 for $300,000 from Sharlene Corp. The building's 2013 assessed value is $364,000, an increase from the 2012 assessed value of $355,800, according to city records.

City Planner Teresa Gillotti previously said if Pate did not fix the building, then the next step would be for the city to do the repairs.

"If we were to fix the building, it would put a lien on the building," Gillotti said in December. "If we perceived more of a receivership role, that would be something that needed more of a follow-up role from city council."

Council members and city officials have expressed concern regarding the vacant building in the past. The building housed the Smith Furniture Company when it opened in 1965 but has been vacant since around 1995.

City Attorney John Barr said at the December hearing that if he were to get property testimony stating that the building is a danger, the city can file petition with the local circuit court seeking receivership.

It is unclear at this point if the city plans to take that course of action.

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.


Megan Turf

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:37 p.m.

Are we even sure Pate is still alive? He hasn't responded to anything and didn't even bother to show up to court.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 1:57 a.m.

Katrease, Could you find out why the assessment went up? It would seem counterintuitive that a building in disrepair would see an increase in value.


Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 5:09 p.m.

Granted this property may have value, another 10 years down the line it will still be in disrepair. You cant fix cracks with tape and glue. As of right now I don't see any kind of person investing in the property for redevelopment unless they have some significant gain. Location is nice, but i am more than certain the bill will come back at or above 100,000. I say tear it down, and build something new in its spot. Or if saving the structure is high priority on the list maybe rezoning/developing it into some sort of downtown housing would be feasible.


Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 1:13 p.m.

Seems like this could have be a great spot for that family dollar to go. Win, Win. It won't happen but it would be nice.


Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 11:36 a.m.

Way to stay on top of things! Mr. Daniels sounds almost proud that it only took the city 17 years before it took action on building code violations. Bravo!

Katrease Stafford

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 11:14 a.m.

Beardown, City officials I spoke with said the city has no plans to tear it down, even if it were to obtain receivership capabilities from a court. Despite the damages, the building is still worth more than $360,000. If it were to be redeveloped, that amount would continue to increase, as well as the tax amount that would go toward the city. But, that's all admittedly dependent on finding someone else or getting Mr.Pate to cooperate by renovating the building and paying his taxes--that is, if the city doesn't take him to court. Early estimates to fix the building have been around $70,000. I'm not sure what the cost would be to actually tear it down.

G. Davis sr.

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 10:58 a.m.

Am I missing something here? Any other city would take possession of the property. It's a fixer upper. Why did the city just notice these issues? Vacant for 18(!) years. Repairs involving a lien? Just take the the property away and improve the downtown with action! Downtown Ypsilanti has been abandoned by the moneyed that drive the economy. It is occupied by the property owners that can't or won't invest!!g5


Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 10:44 a.m.

It's clear the owner wants the city to take over this property and tear down the building. The building is worthless to him as it stands and the property is most likely not worth the cost to renovate or tear down.