Ypsilanti City Council rejects agreement with Thompson Block developer Stewart Beal; case likely headed to court
The Ypsilanti City Council rejected a proposed agreement with Thompson Block developer Stewart Beal on Tuesday, a move that will likely send the months-long battle to court.
The council voted 4-3 to turn down a plan developed by Beal and City Manager Ed Koryzno that provided a timeline for removing shoring from the city’s right-of-way.Â Koryzno said the city will file a lawsuit today, whether or not negotiations continue.
In a tense moment before he cast the fourth "no" vote, Council Member Pete Murdock summed up the frustrations of those who opposed the plan.
“We’re going to be in court one way or another - no,” he said.
The vote could spell the end of the Thompson Block development, should the city win the court case that now appears likely. The Thompson Block was badly damaged in a fire last September.
Last month, the council voted 4-3 to direct city attorney John Barr to pursue litigation against Beal. Since then, both sides have been working to resolve a dispute over beams propping up the Thompson Block’s faÃ§ade in the right-of-way.
Barr said the building is considered a nuisance without the traffic control order that has now expired. It threatens public safety and blocks the city’s right-of-way without proper authority, he said.Â
Beams are currently in the northbound lane of River Street and on the sidewalk next to Cross Street’s westbound lanes. Without the supports, Fire ChiefÂ Jon Ichesco said the walls would crumble.
The city postponed legal action last month while Koryzno and Beal worked to draft a suitable agreement. Beal said he and Koryzno met once and talked several times on the phone to work out the terms of the latest document presented to council.
Among other points, the agreement required:
- Beal furnish a $60,000 performance bond to help ensure he met the agreement’s terms.
- Beal pay for the city to hire an independent engineer to determine whether the structure is safe within 10 days.
- Beal move all support beams out of River Street within 30 days.
- Beal move shoring completely out of the city’s right-of-way by Oct. 4.
- Beal purchase $2 million in insurance protecting the City of Ypsilanti.
- Beal begin renovations with his firm or another within 120 days.
Beal said he was surprised by the council’s vote but would continue to work with Koryzno to draft a new agreement. But he said it's evident the current council will not support any agreement he presents.
“Ed spent a lot of time on that (the agreement), so I don’t think there’s a way to improve it - he did a good job with it,” said Beal, whose Historic Equities I LLC owns the building.
Beal added he’s confident a "reasonable" judge who doesn’t walk by the Thompson Block every day will allow the two sides to work out an agreement.
He also said the Historic District Commission will block the building from being demolished.
“You hear people use the word ‘demolish’ a lot, but that’s not even an option,” he said.
Beal told the council he has invested $910,000 in the Thompson Block. Part of that was his personal money, part came from his family and roughly half came from investors, he said.
The Oct. 4 deadline for removing all shoring from the city's right-of-way was two months sooner than a plan Beal presented to council in February. But Council Member Lois Richardson said it was still too long to wait, and June seemed more reasonable.
"I'm not sure of Ms. Richardson's background, but I do know from hearing her speak that she is not a construction expert," Beal said, adding a construction expert would find an October deadline reasonable.
Murdock remained mostly silent during the discussion leading up to the vote. He and Beal had a heated exchange at the March 2 meeting, after which Beal sent a letter to AnnArbor.com harshly criticizing Murdock.
Murdock said he didn’t think the two sides were making any progress, and court is now the best option.
“I’m trying to protect the public, move some things out of the street and make it safe, but whichever way it happens, it’s going to be like pulling teeth, ” he said.
Council Member Mike BodaryÂ said he doesn't believe the building is salvageable in its present state.
“The overall cost of that is way too much - $2 million. It would take him forever to get the financing, so we’d like to see the structure taken out before the summer festival season,” he said.
When asked for a timeframe on moving the case through the courts, Barr responded he couldn't provide one. He said it would be relatively quick because the beams in the road present a danger to the public.
“I think the courts pay a lot of attention when it’s a danger to the public, so you should get a fast track on it,” he said.
Mayor Paul Schreiber said he thought the new agreement was better than the first and concentrated on safety. He added he feels litigation will only prolong the process.
“Instead of getting the building safe and secure we are going to court,” he said. “To me that’s going to delay things. I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the city, but I’m just one vote.”
Beal stressed he will continue to work to rehabilitate the building, no matter what the process.
“It’s important to note that the building is never going to be demolished,” he said.
Schreiber, Council Member Bill Nickels and Mayor Pro-Tem Trudy Swanson-Winston voted yes. Bodary, Council Member Brian Robb, Murdock and Richardson voted no.
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.
Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 1:35 p.m.
Don't older bricks suffer damage when exposed to the intense heat this fire caused? It's my understanding they do. So what, really, would be the point of trying to keep these walls upright? Perhaps the large tax break offered for renovation of historical structures? Unfortunately, as several have said, most notably Mr. Pierce, there are too many roadbocks in the way to salvaging these propped-up walls. I agree it's time to move on.
Thu, Apr 8, 2010 : 11:02 a.m.
In all of the discussions and city council involvement one thing that isn't elaborated on is that the MDOT approval to block the roads has expired and that MDOT has the ultimate right to order the blockades removed immediately or engage in having them removed at the expense of the owner(s). Another point that I haven't seen elaborated upon, were professional engineers ever employed to review and issue a report regarding stability issues and whether the damaged walls could even support new construction Seems to me that pertinent information and government powers to act are being supercede and or ignored.
dading dont delete me bro
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 3:40 p.m.
why take this to court? beal and city manager koryzno agreeded on a timeline. gee, let's take this to court and spend MORE MONEY that the city doesn't have. sounds a little selfish on part of the city council, doesn't it?
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 2:26 p.m.
One more point to make that wasn't reported and I apologize for the long post and I hope A@ doesn't kill this post because it can help the discussion. Beals pledge to rehab the building by October 2010 is to only reconstruct the walls and tuck point so the building is once again three stories tall and stabilize the walls with interior bracing. Beal would then install boards to make it look like there were window openings. There would be no other internal structure, no upper flooring, and no roof on the building. Preservation experts and state certified construction engineers I have spoken with today have already told me that the brick walls will not withstand the erosion of wind, snow, and rain and the onslaught of freeze/thaw without a roof. A brick structure is only safe and stable if it has a roof. The mortar and bricks will quickly deteriorate especially since these bricks are an older and softer, lower temperature fired brick. Very different from modern bricks today. Leaving a building with no roof will mean that bricks could pop out because of freeze/thaw even in the first winter which would be a hazard to pedestrians or vehicles. I did ask if they put a stone or other protective cap does that help. The answer was yes but only for a few months or a couple of years and only if the cap is constantly maintained and there is continuous maintenance regimen. But it still doesn't address the problems with spalling because both sides of the wall are exposed to weather. These same experts said the risk of spalling is much higher because water is now attacking from both sides of the wall since the building has no roof. http://www.hgtv.com/home-improvement/spalling-bricks/index.html The interior walls can be bare when they are not exposed to weather and in fact not sealing helps to allow the bricks to breathe to release moisture. But you have to have a roof. With no roof, the interior walls are exposed and will spall, and quickly, according to the experts, unless both sides of the walls are painted or sealed. But with both sides sealed, the cap is critical and just one failure of the cap seal will cause significant damage in as little as one season. Some are saying that OSHA/MIOSHA may require all workers to wear hard hats and have specialized training before entering the property and there may need to be an exclusion zone so that bricks do not fall on pedestrians. It is hard to imagine how that exclusion zone wouldn't encompass part or all of the street. As soon as we mentioned that there were daily freight trains passing by at 40+ miles an hour these same experts said there may be a need for a safety zone where the train moves no faster than 15MPH. But before that decision, careful ground monitoring equipment would need to be installed to measure the effect of the train on the site. They all said the train greatly complicates the issue for site and public safety. The plan Beal outlined last night, there are some very serious and significant safety issues that don't appear to be addressed in the agreement or in Beal's plan as he has so far outlined it. There is a clause that the City will hire an engineer to review the plans and Beal will pay for the engineer. But nothing in the agreement says what will happen if the engineer says the plan is not workable. Then you get into a dispute where Beal's engineer says this is safe and the City's engineer, paid by Beal, says it is not. Again, I apologize for the long post and I hope you found some of this information helpful. - Steve
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 2:15 p.m.
Steve, My quote at the end of my story was the last thing Beal said before we shook hands and I turned off my tape recorder, so nothing was said later in the press conference to put it in context. The press conference was over at that point. As far as Beal making contradictory statements, he is waiting to see what happens before continuing construction. Even if he expresses how confident he is the Historic District Commission will block the demolition or a "reasonable" judge is going to side with him, a contractor waiting to see the outcome of a lawsuit before proceeding with construction is, well, reasonable.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 1:22 p.m.
Thanks for the kind words but I am not dissing the reporter or A2.com. Lord knows I have questioned what A2.com has written but this is not one of them Both what Tom wrote and I wrote were factual. But you do have to read carefully what is being said by Beal. What Beal is saying is that he is going to proceed with the rehab of the building one way or the other. He said that and Tom reported it accurately. But what wasn't reported was Beal's later comment that I think puts Beal's early assertion into context. Beal made it clear during the press conference that he would not be spending any money or resources on the building itself going forward. Instead Beal's efforts going forward would be solely administrative such as meeting with the City Manager to hammer out a second agreement and resolve the court case when and if that comes. Beal said that the action by City Council only delays his starting on the work. I don't remember which reporter asked this but someone asked what was preventing Beal from working on the building now. Beal said he didn't want to spend any money stabilizing it if the building might later be demolished. This is of course in conflict with his later statement that building was NOT going to be torn down under any circumstance. Beal was emphatic when he repeated several times the Historic District would not allow it. If that is the case, then there is little risk of investing the money now in the building to effect repairs and stabilize the structure. If Beal is is going to rehab the building no matter what, and Beal is correct that the Historic District Commission under no circumstance would approve the demolition of the building, then there is really no harm and no increased costs if he starts now or waits until a year from now. In fact, it could be argued, if Beal starts now, by the time the case gets to court, if he finishes by October like he promised to City Council, the case would be moot. So it isn't really City Council that is holding this up. - Steve
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 12:48 p.m.
Glad Mr. Pierce was there to give us the straight scoop. Annarbor.com, where do you recruit these "reporters"??? As a group they are pathetic. ypsidog
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 12:41 p.m.
The A2 reporter said "Beal stressed he will continue to work to rehabilitate the building, no matter what the process." I was at the press conference Beal held after the decision by City Council. With his dad quietely looking on from the side, Beal told reporters that he will not invest any more money into the building nor take any steps to remove the bracing from the road way until the matter was resolved in court by a "reasonable judge". Beal went on to say, "Money is a valuable resource." - Steve
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 11:49 a.m.
Mr. Beal cared so deeply and spent all this money (nearly 1 million dollars) which is why squatters continued to party there until it went up in smoke! I wonder how much was spent on security prior to the fire? I know, nada!
dading dont delete me bro
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.
has there ever been mention to a cause of the fire? i don't recall anything.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 11:27 a.m.
Get rid of it...and get rid of Beal. He had alot of time to fix that place especially before and definitely after the fire, and did nothing but whine in public and give the City Council a hard time.
dading dont delete me bro
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 9:39 a.m.
why not take pictures, research historical pictures, then demo it? i'm not a structure engineer, but it sure looks unsafe to me. take the bricks from the demo and (sand or whatever media) blast them to original and rebuild? safe AND back to it's original look. sure looks like it's going to fall on it's own...
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 9:15 a.m.
Could do what Ann Arbor did on Huron street. Take a part of the facing wall and build around it. Maybe even rebuild from the existing wood and parts to build an exact replica of the existing building? It is a shame arsonists came in to destroy what Ypsilanti tried so hard to preserve. Rebuild a replica with the existing parts and be done with it. It will hurt the historical value but not the eye sore it has become thus far. Good luck Beal. Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti boards are tough negotiators.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 9:13 a.m.
Sighhhh, it would be nice to save the bulding, but what is there really left to save? Mr. Beal, for whatever reasons, moved too slowly and the building burned. We may all have to treasure our old photos and memories; it's time to move on.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 9:07 a.m.
This is a relatively normal dispute between a city and a developer - major communities deal with this all the time. There are often never perfect solutions but there seems to be attempt by Beal to meet the city's needs (as he was working with the city manager.) Council members (hopefully) review the facts and vote based on the facts... this is standard procedure.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 8:45 a.m.
As a New Yorker accustomed to seeing buildings demolished, I don't understand the attraction to or with this building -- unless a new building will be subject to new zoning ordinances which could severely restrict size, height, setback from road, etc. I've spent my entire life in the construction/building renovation business; this building looks unsalvageable.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 8:40 a.m.
Why is there so much animosity towards Mr. Beal? The building is one of only two remaining Civil War barracks in Michigan. Once the Thompson Block is gone, it's gone. What is the harm in giving Mr. Beal more time?
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 7:45 a.m.
"Beal told the council he has invested $910,000 into Thompson block" Really? Is that why it caught fire and burnt to the ground? I didn't realize wood was going for such a premium! What a dump.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 7:28 a.m.
This building was an eyesore even before the fire. I was looking forward to it's removal/repair by June!
Mary Catherine Smith
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 7:04 a.m.
When he says the building is never going to be demolished, he may be right. It's crumbling around the supports in places....just wait, it may just fall down on its own.
Wed, Apr 7, 2010 : 6:25 a.m.
Never is an awfully long time!