Not so fast: KEDA says there is no blight list of buildings

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette While many buildings in the downtown district of Calumet are currently neglected, two once-beautiful buildings are in the process of being restored by their owners. These two buildings are the Kirby Building (R) and the Quello Block.

CALUMET — There is no blight list of buildings in the village, said Jeff Ratcliffe, executive director of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance (KEDA).

The Historic District Commission, after a thorough evaluation of all the historic buildings in the downtown, a list was created of the buildings most in danger of demolition by neglect, said Ratcliffe. That means that by neglecting them, the buildings have the potential of falling down. These are buildings posing a public risk of injury.

Ratcliffe said a small work group that was derived of a group he assembled called the Bring Calumet Back task force. The task force had been working to fund stabilizing buildings, and offer assistance to building owners who needed the help.

After failing to raise necessary funding, Ratcliffe said they began exploring ways to get the private building owners to stabilize the buildings, fix the roofs, and secure the windows.

“That’s a governmental function,” said Ratcliffe, “and it’s done through the enforcement of various ordinances.”

Leah Polzien, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, and Village Trustee Virginia Dwyer, were part of the work group, as were Ratcliffe and Scott MacInnes, who as a retired professional city manager, and member of the Michigan Municipal League, offered his assistance.

“These are things that are part and parcel to the good functioning of a municipality,” Ratcliffe said, “and so we sat down, and we went through those ordinances to put together information we could bring back to the village in terms of what it will take to enforce those ordinances, utilizing the municipal civil infraction process. Which, most governments around Houghton County are now implementing, or have implemented. So, this is something usual, not unusual, it is something that Houghton did a long time ago, and it’s been reported in the Daily Mining Gazette about the other municipalities, that have done this. South Range, I believe, is the most recent.”

Municipalities are moving toward the Michigan Civil Infraction Process, Ratcliffe said. It is not designed to punish building owners but rather to encourage them to accept responsibility for their own dilapidated properties.

“That’s the only goal of this,” he said. “It isn’t to take these buildings away from people.”

Ratcliffe said that while many people in the village are misinformed as to the actions of the HDC, KEDA is working with village officials to re-establish practices that most other governments are already utilizing to improve their communities.

“As an economic developer,” Ratcliffe said, “I’m looking at the deterioration of the fabric of a very, very important community in the Keweenaw.”