Village DDA and the Houghton County Land Bank work to preserve buildings, heritage
CALUMET — The village commercial district has seen an increasing amount of activity over the past few years, as vacant or abandoned structures are purchased, rehabilitated and house new businesses. One of the most recent businesses to open in Calumet is the Frozen Farms Company, which opened a retail outlet on Fifth Street in August. The building at 303 Fifth Street, also known as the Paine-Webber Building has been purchased, is in the process of being renovated and is scheduled to open as a business in the summer of 2022. A retail outlet selling outdoor wear is also scheduled to open soon. It seems as though it may be a prime time to purchase retail space in the business district.
For anyone looking to buy a property in the village, there are a number of property holders, including the Houghton County Land Bank and the Calumet Village Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
The DDA has assumed ownership and stabilization of several buildings in an effort to prevent the loss of historic buildings within the village, and also to avoid further fragmentation of the downtown business district. It is therefore the policy of the DDA to hold these buildings until a viable development opportunity is found that will return these buildings to a condition and use that benefits the long term economic health of Calumet. To evaluate potential buyers the DDA utilizes a purchase proposal process.
Leah Polzien, Main Street Calumet director and DDA official said that the DDA recently adopted changes to the way a buyer can purchase a property which is in the form of a Property Proposal Package. Currently, the DDA has two properties listed for sale: one at 427 Fifth Street and the other located at 512 Portland Street, known as the Curto Building.
“For the two properties that the DDA has listed,” said Polzien, “there are packages laid out for ‘if you would like to purchase this property, this is what you need to do, here’s the steps you need to take, this is what we require for a downpayment.”
The proposal for the Curto Building, for example, includes objectives with the project, such as to:
— Redevelop the entire vacant building for appropriate and productive use.
— Return the property to the tax roll and increase its value through complete redevelopment.
— Secure development which adds to the business mix and is in the best interest of the community.
— Redevelop the building in a manner that conforms with Secretary of Interior’s Guidelines for Redevelopment of Historic Buildings, the Village of Calumet Historic District Commission, and enhances the unique historic look and feel of downtown Calumet.
— Secure a private developer (DEVELOPER) with sufficient demonstrable financial ability to complete the redevelopment within a reasonable time frame and sufficient demonstrated ability to achieve the above objectives.
— Develop a project that is a permitted or conditional use under the current Zoning District designation of C-2 Downtown Commercial District and does not require re-zoning of the parcel.
— Minimize or eliminate any need for obtaining variances from the Village’s Zoning Ordinance and other Village Codes.
The reason for the Property Proposal Package in regard to a building, said Polzien, is that in the even of a project not being completed, the DDA has a way by which to repossess the property.
“If you do acquire the property, and you don’t finish the project,” she explained, “we have a way to get that property back from you.”
In the case of the Pain-Webber Building, on Fifth Street, she said, that building is stable. It is not going anywhere, and the new owner has had an ongoing business in the village for the past 30 years.
“But in other cases, what we’ve found with the (Houghton County) Land Bank,” Polzien said, “is (with) a lot of the land bank properties, someone has bought it at auction, speculated on the dream: ‘Oh, I want this building, it’s so awesome,’ and maybe they get into it and say this is,, I’m in over my head, or financial situations change, time situations change, and it’s three years later, and we’ve lost that building to tax foreclosure again. Now, it’s at tax auction again, and in the meantime, it’s continued to deteriorate.”
The DDA and the village, she said, needs to stop that cycle. The land bank has also changed its sale policy for the same reason, she added, and it is not good for the village, the township, or the county to have properties wind up back with the DDA or the land bank, and remain out of the tax base year after year.
“We’ve got to break that cycle,” she said.