Two Ottawa/Butler houses come down

By Andy Balaskovitz
What\'s left of two houses on Ottawa Street, which were demolished because the property owner, the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, said they were unsalvageable. Eric Finkler/City Pulse

Property owner says houses were too far gone for preservation

Monday, June 10 — Two houses on the 800 block of Ottawa Street two blocks from the Capitol Building have been demolished because they would have been too expensive to preserve.

The two houses between Butler Boulevard and Sycamore Street had been gutted over the several years they sat vacant, said Karole White, president of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, which owns the property.

The houses are part of the largely vacant block bounded by Ottawa, Sycamore and Ionia streets and Butler Boulevard. The association purchased the 5.3-acre property from Wolverine Bank four months ago for $157,900. White said the two houses were likely built in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

While the broadcasters did not initially plan to demolish the houses, it became the logical choice considering the cost of fixing them, White said.

“Could they have been salvaged? I just don’t know,” she said. “The foundation was in such bad shape — it would have been rebuilding the houses from scratch.”

White said squatters and animals had been living in the homes. The subfloor, duct work, furnace, lighting fixtures and plumbing had also been taken out of the houses.

“It is not an easy decision, especially if you respect older homes and want to preserve them,” said White, who is a member of the Grand Ledge Historical Society.

Gretchen Cochran, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said White knew for at least a couple of months that the house at 810 Ottawa was “unsalvageable.” After inspecting 808 Ottawa on her own, Cochran anticipated the same fate for that house.

“It was horrible,” Cochran said, noting how all of the metal inside had been removed for scraps. In the end, rehabilitating the houses was not likely to be cost effective, she added.

“It doesn’t make sense once a house has been destroyed in that way,” Cochran said, “and it’s heartbreaking.”

As for the rest of the property, which does not include any more buildings owned by the broadcasters association, a request for proposals will be sent out in the coming weeks to developers who may be interested in purchasing the land for redevelopment, White said: “We are looking for the most sensible plan.”

That would likely include mixed-use residential and commercial spaces. The association is still considering building a new headquarters at the southeast corner of the property, at Ottawa and Sycamore.

Since 2004, three developers have eyed the Ottawa/Butler block for redevelopment. None of them broke ground on their concepts. Developer Gene Townsend proposed in 2008 a $20 million vision for condominiums, lofts and retail space. Townsend’s firm, Sycamore Street Partners, lost the property in a bank foreclosure in fall 2010.

More recently, Scott Gillespie had an option to buy the property from Wolverine Bank for about $160,000 as he worked out a $7 million concept with the neighborhood for rental apartments. That project never made it to a City Council committee for discussion before Gillespie’s option expired.