Babcock: DOE lien holding up sale of Finlandia buildings

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Hancock City Manager Mary Babcock discusses the status of Finlandia University property sales during Monday’s Hancock Planning Commission meeting. The U.S. Department of Education has placed a lien on the properties for repayment, halting any potential sale of the buildings. “Soft” property such as desks and computers will be auctioned off next month.

HANCOCK — The sale of Finlandia University’s buildings is on hold because of a Department of Education lien, Hancock City Manager Mary Babcock said at Monday’s Planning Commission meeting.

Finlandia announced in March it would be closing at the end of the academic year, citing declining enrollment and mounting debts. O’Keefe & Associates was appointed as a receiver over Finlandia’s properties to find buyers for the buildings and other university property.

Babcock said she has been working with O’Keefe to get the lien removed. Until that happens, the buildings can’t be sold.

She hopes to see movement within the next two weeks.

“Our biggest worry right now is for the Department of Ed to get that lien off of there, because if this receiver can’t come up with money to sustain their actions and get paid sooner or later, they could leave,” Babcock said. “And this could all be left in the Department of Ed’s ownership.”

Babcock said the city has talked with the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which she called the most likely partner that could help.

“This is probably not the last university in Michigan of this size that’s going to close and affect a community,” she said. “It is the first, and maybe they need to tailor some help to help us amend us.”

Some of the university’s important cultural resources are being eyed for preservation. The Pasadena, California-based Finlandia Foundation is working to keep several of the buildings open, including the Finnish American Heritage Center and the North Wind Bookstore.

At the end of June, there will be two online auctions for “soft” property such as computers or gym equipment.

Some of that money will go toward upkeep of the properties. Babcock said lawn mowing and other minimal maintenance will continue for now.

“It’s in their best interest right now to do that to keep the properties looking as good as they can, but there’s no obligation on their part,” Babcock said. “Right now they don’t have a lot of cash to keep that type of work up, so the soft goods that are sold can help keep that sustained until the properties change hands.”


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