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Posted on Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ypsilanti's Smith Furniture Building to hit the auction block

By Tom Perkins


The Smith Furniture Building will soon be auctioned.

Tom Perkins | For

Downtown Ypsilanti’s Smith Furniture Building will soon be on the auction block.

The decision to sell the long-vacant building comes after consistent pressure from the city for its owner, James Pate, to renovate or sell the property.

Ann Arbor-based auction house Braun and Helmer Auction Services will hold the auction at the property at 15 S. Washington St. No date has been set, but Braun and Helmer owner Jerry Helmer said the target is sometime in the first week of September.

Helmer said the Smith Building will be sold as is with no minimum bid. An auction was chosen over putting it on the market because Pate wants to quickly move the property, Helmer said.

“The owner wants to sell it on that day, as is, with no contingencies,” he said. “He would rather take a little less money and get it sold then.”

The city has cited Pate for a range of issues at the site and placed the building on its dangerous buildings list, though all involved believe it can still be redeveloped.


The interior of the building is blanketed in mold that the auction house says will be cleaned out before the auction.

Tom Perkins | For

Among other issues are a leaking roof, mold growth, a lack of a working ventilation system, a crack in the outer wall and damage to the drywall in the interior.

But Helmer noted that the building’s foundation is strong, it has a steel frame and the two floors in the 25,000-square-foot structure are made of concrete. He said he plans to make repairs to the roof and is hiring workers to clean out the moldy carpets from inside the building.

"It’s rough and we're not trying to pretend it isn’t, but it doesn’t need to be torn down by any means,” Helmer said. “The roof has leaked for so long that it did a lot of damage, but we’re going to clean a lot of that up, make roof repairs, take everything out of the inside, get it presentable.”

City records show that the building has a taxable value of $266,000. Pate bought the building from the former owners for $300,000 in 1992.

Helmer said the building would be suited best for a local investor, and he added that it will likely go for a bargain for a building of its size and location.


The rear of the Smith Furniture Building

Tom Perkins | For

“It’s a wonderful buying opportunity for someone if they have the wherewithal,” Helmer said.

The building has rarely been used since Pate bought it, except serving briefly as an office for his wife.

The city has grown increasingly impatient to have the property redeveloped, though Pate has ignored all the city’s correspondences regarding the building. He failed to show for a hearing in front of the city’s dangerous building officer in June 2012.

Pate also ignored an order from the Ypsilanti City Council to bring it up to code, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and/or 90 days in jail. That case is in the 14A2 District Court.

City officials have repeatedly said that they simply want something done with the building.

"We’d be happy to see reuse in the facility," said City Planner Teresa Gillotti. "Previously we’ve had people inquire about using it as a club, office, retail and even second story residential. We’re open to a variety of reuses. Potential buyers can contact the city if they have questions about what uses would be allowed."

Gillotti said she was pleased that Helmer had contacted the city on Thursday about permits for roof work and mold remediation.

"We’re happy to hear that the property owner is working to repair the building and potentially sell it for reuse," she said.

Helmer said it isn't the first time his auction house has been called for an auction at the property. In 1975,the company was to hold a furniture auction for what was then the Walker Furniture Store, but the auction house was forced to cancel the auction because of a blizzard.



Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

I hope the city has a large lien on the property and they get paid from the auction proceeds. It's outrageous that he could own this building for 21 years just letting it rot.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 12:43 a.m.

It was a beautiful furniture store back in the day.


Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 12:11 a.m.

I can imagine it being just that. My husband once told me a hobby shop tried to buy that building from the owner and he refused. He said it was worth too much to let it go for so little. So sad to see it go to waste.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 12:17 a.m.

Jim Pate is a very cordial older gentleman. I am happy to have the news that he made the decision to sell his building. Good Decision Jim!


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 4:27 a.m.

Indeed. If you won't take care of it, please sell it to someone who will. Good decision, Jim!

Tom Perkins

Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 6:34 p.m.

@Moonunit City hall was closed due to a furlough day on Friday.


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 5:03 p.m.

Meanwhile the building department is nowhere to be found in this matter. So onward the workers go removing this festering biological mess and who knows what is being dispersed into our Downtown air. Also the Washtenaw County Heath Dept guy was on vacation too. How convenient for the building owner! He probably planned it for a furlough day.


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

Friday with the City on furlough, a team of workers entered the building with a small bobcat-like tractor and began scooping up that hazardous mess of mold and whatever else and putting it into an open-air container on the side of the building. All the doors were open and whatever might be inside, and if you ever looked inside the building while it was sealed up for all of those years you know what I mean, was be exhausted in to the public air. Attempts were made to reach the building dept but they weren't around, but the Fire Dept did quickly responds to take a look. What they told me was that they "conducted air monitoring and pH water sampling. There is no environmental problem at this time." I mentioned some OSHA guidelines and that wrote back that my concern had " some merit in regard to how the workers were handling contaminated material. OSHA states that building materials and furnishings contaminated with mold growth that are not salvageable should be placed in sealed impermeable bags or closed containers while in the remediation area. These materials can usually be discarded as ordinary construction waste. It is important to package mold-contaminated materials in this fashion to minimize the dispersion of mold spores. Large items with heavy mold growth should be covered with polyethylene sheeting and sealed with duct tape before being removed from the remediation area. Some jobs may require the use of dust-tight chutes to move large quantities of debris to a dumpster strategically placed outside a window in the remediation area." But they also replied that OSHA stated that this "This Safety and Health Information Bulletin is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations."


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 12:16 a.m.

Note that Moonunit is an environmental hazard expert. Geesh!


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 3:46 p.m.

Another property owner being chased out of the city, lets see what becomes of it.


Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 7:40 p.m.

Paul, he neglected this building for a very long time. brought it on himself.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 12:45 a.m.

Are you for real?


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

"Another property owner being chased out of the city..." to be replaced by a new owner. One in, one out. What's the problem? You think the other property owners in the area are thrilled by an empty, leaking building sitting there for years and years?

dading dont delete me bro

Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 4:41 p.m.

paul, how is being responsible and bringing your building up to code being chased out? please?


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 4:30 p.m.

Yes, chased out of town after letting his building sit empty and rot. You certainly seem to have low standards for property owners.


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 3:32 p.m.

To the editors et al Here is another article that seemingly has nothing to do with food (other than one comment about a grocery store). And yet, it is being listed in the Lifestyles section and is surrounded by multiple (and I do mean Multiple) food ads. This seems to be exactly the same scenario as a previous article that was unfortunately listed in Lifestyles also. At the time we were told it was a system glitch. Apparently it hasn't been fixed. I was wondering if the word 'grocery store' in the comments may have prompted a 2nd posting in this area. Perhaps there was also something in the comments - rather than just the story itself - in the previous case.


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

I have long wished to have a grocery store there.


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

Admiral, good idea. @Ypsilivin, I can understand your reluctance but keep in mind that the new owner, if possessing any sense will call in the haz-mat team to clean it up, that's what it needs! i walked by there yesterday and noticed that the grass-sprouting carpet had been "dug up"!


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

The thought of having food there is unappetizing...

dading dont delete me bro

Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 11:59 a.m.

how long would potential new owner have to clean things up? obviously, the sooner the better, but legally?

Hugh Giariola

Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 11:11 a.m.

That Dollar General store proposed for Water St. can go in there.


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 10:13 a.m.

I cannot imagine anyone wanting that building with the cost of cleaning it up. Maybe $1.00?


Sat, Aug 3, 2013 : 3:47 p.m.

How about they paying me to buy it, ha ha. Who ever buys it, is going to have to spend a ton of money to keep the city happy.