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Posted on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ypsilanti pushes for Smith Furniture building ownership change

By Tom Perkins


City officials hope the Smith Furniture building will soon have a new owner who will redevelop the downtown property.

Tom Perkins | For

Ypsilanti’s Smith Furniture building boasts one of the lushest, greenest lawns in the city.

Unfortunately, that lawn is growing inside the vacant, deteriorating structure.

The city is continuing in its efforts to get the property, which has largely sat vacant for most of the past two decades, brought up to code and redeveloped.

As the grass continues to grow, Smith’s owner, James Pate, was charged last month with a criminal misdemeanor for ignoring a city order to bring the mold-infested downtown building up to code.

Assistant City Attorney Jesse O’Jack said a pretrial on the case against Pate has been postponed.

Concurrently, the city is pushing for an ownership change through one of two avenues. There is discussion of asking the Washtenaw County Circuit Court to appoint a receiver to manage and bring the property up to code if Pate continues neglecting to do so.


A small patch of mold growth inside the Smith building.

Tom Perkins | For

City Planner Teresa Gillotti said that is the course the city will take if Pate doesn’t sell the property, which has remained largely abandoned since he purchased it in 1992. Pate was unable to be reached for comment, though Gillotti said Pate at least appears to be interested in selling.

“The city is taking more of a role in abating the problems at the property,” Gillotti told Council Member Brian Robb when he asked about the building during a recent council meeting. “If (Pate) sells it, then we’ll let him do that. If not, we’ll see if there’s interest in a receiver.”

Pate, who once was the vice president at Ypsilanti Savings Bank, allowed his wife to use part of the building for an office until she passed away.

No estimate on how much it would cost to repair the building is available, though city officials consider it salvageable if on the verge of collapse. City records show it has a taxable value of $266,000. Pate bought the building from the former owners for $300,000 in 1992.

Among other issues at the property:

  • The roof is leaking and needs to be replaced.
  • Joists and beams are decaying and need to be addressed.
  • Various types of mold are blanketing the floors and parts of the ceilings and walls.
  • There is no operable ventilation system.
  • The foundation is cracking.

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 of 2012. Pate was given a timeline to begin repairs at the hearing, but he never complied.

That put the case in front of the City Council on Dec. 18, 2012. Council ordered the property to be brought up to code within 60 days.

Pate also ignored that order, 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.

In the meantime, city officials are hopeful Pate will move forward with some type of action.

“Mr. Pate said he is seriously thinking about selling the building,” said city attorney John Barr. “We’re pushing to get him to get the building brought up to code, fixed, torn down; he needs to do something with it, not just leave it a dangerous building.”

Gillotti said there is no timeline available on when the building must be sold or something must happen, but the city will move forward with receivership if necessary.

"We are kind of going down parallel paths to change ownership or to get the property in better shape soon," she said.

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter. Contact the news desk at


Bettie Dodd

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 : 11:21 p.m.

Tear it down and put a lien on the property.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

Yipes! call in the hazmat team and tear this fungus factory down!


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.

Brenda and her bulldog attorney really know how to bring these negligent owners to their knees. Glad to see something being done and quick. I am also glad to see the old dealership being demolished as we speak. Just go over the bridge and across from BK. Glad to see blight being demolished.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:44 p.m.

They should tear the building down and build a one or two story parking garage in that entire area. More people would come downtown and frequent places like 'Bona Sara' 'Red Rocks' and 'Beezys' (i know I left out some other places but you get my point)

Brian Robb

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 5:32 p.m.

For what it's worth, a parking structure (with no underground spaces) has an average per space cost of $20K. If you wanted a garage with 100 spots, that's $2M.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 4:32 p.m.

For those who don't know, Jim Pate has "said" he wanted to sell the building ever since he bought it. But when someone makes an offer, he either turned down the offer, or wanted a higher price, or put all kinds of roadblocks in the path to a sale. And when the city tried to go after him once before, saying the building was unoccupied, he moved his wife into an office there to thwart that move. This is not a case of the city forgetting about this eyesore, but of the owner circumventing every effort to improve the situation. Let's hope the results, this time, are better.

Mark Hergott

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

I want to say that I appreciate the hard work that council does. Planner Gillotti does good work as well. There is just so much work to be done, and so many things have piled up for so long. I look forward to an open lot there soon. A nice green lawn on the outside would do the neighborhood well.

Fresh Start

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

What is the city doing about the abandoned Ford factory and UAW hall with foot high grass on Spring street?


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 9:54 p.m.

If it is in Ypsilanti Township call the ordinance dept or Brenda Stumbo. This will be taken care of.

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

you can add the old big boy building on ecorse to that list. #sexyboardedwindows

Brian Robb

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 2:46 p.m.

Any time you see something you feel needs attention, please submit a request on the City's web site. That way, there is a record of the complaint that no one can deny and the clock starts towards resolution.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 1:25 p.m.

If the city's elected officials cared about reducing expenditures (instead of simply creating new and "clever" ways to pick our pockets with various assessments, fees, etc.), they could begin by eliminating the city's so-called building code enforcement officials. This function could be contracted out to much more highly competent professionals and, at the same time, the city could eliminate the outrageous costs associated with employee pensions, health care, etc. More importantly, however, is that actual code enforcement work might actually be performed in the city. Currently, code enforcement work by city employees is all but non-existent.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 8:15 p.m.

Mr. Robb: Are you really using this data to support the ordinance enforcement work of city staff? LOL!!!

Brian Robb

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

Here is a map of the ordinance violations from APR and MAY of this year. APR 2013 MAY 2013 Enjoy!

Elaine F. Owsley

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 11:12 a.m.

Who would be willing to buy a building with all those problems?


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

Not I, said the little red hen.....

Michigan Reader

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 9:04 p.m.

A bargain hunter. He/she could make a huge profit (when the downtown comes back.)

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 10:35 a.m.

sounds more like a city lot for sale instead of a building for sale...


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 10:24 a.m.

I just don't understand why it takes so long to get any action on these types of buildings. Perhaps stiffer fines and/or jail time? With all the mold it probably should be torn down.


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

Maybe he can join David Kircher soon...


Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

I'm with you. How is it possible that the owner can ignore all correspondence, fail to appear in court, and fail to comply with a court order--and then be slapped with a $500 fine and a misdemeanor? Why hasn't he been arrested, as any petty criminal would be in such circumstances? And isn't the kind of blight that Pate's irresponsibility has caused to a city's downtown worth more than a misdemeanor?