Flint, MI—A plan is in place to get Flint’s historic Paterson Building out of condemned status, but whether the building’s small business tenants will wait out the fix remains in question.
“Ideally, I’d like to see the building open for business,” said Anthony Arline, founder of WAV Village, a music and podcast recording studio on the building’s third floor. “As far as me staying in the building, I have to weigh my options and see what is cost efficient and what’s going to help the community.”
Arline founded WAV with the goal of making an affordable, accessible downtown space for Flint’s creatives. He said he’s already spent tens of thousands on outfitting his multi-room suite in Paterson, which he opened in October 2021.
“So that’s also a concern of mine,” Arline said. “It’s figuring out if it’s going to be worth it to reinvest into a new location.”
Flint Beat first reported the Paterson Building was condemned on April 22—the day a citation was issued to Flintstone Investment Group Corp, the building’s owner, for occupying a condemned building.
However, documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the building was condemned on March 31, after an exterior parapet fell to the sidewalk from the front of the building.
Since then, Flintstone Investment Group Corp has been working toward a solution for tenants to legally operate, and on May 5, the group brought its plan before the Flint Historic District Commission—a necessary step to file for construction permits to repair the parapet.
“They reached out to me when the building was condemned because the building is a historic district,” said Heather Burnash, chair of Flint’s Historic District Commission.
Burnash explained that while many residents tend to think of historic districts as whole neighborhoods, several buildings in Flint are actually considered their own districts—such as the Capitol Theatre, the Mott Building, and the Paterson Building.
“So the building is condemned—which means it can’t be occupied,” Burnash continued. “Which is kind of urgent right now because they have a lot of tenants that are suddenly all displaced or they’re breaking the law.”
Burnash said that she immediately went to work with Morris Peterson, a former NBA player and the founder of Flintstone Investment Group Corp, and his sister, to help them get the repair plan together in a way that would meet the HDC’s standards by its May 5 meeting.
“Our standards are the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation—that’s at the federal level,” Burnash said.
What that means, she explained, is that the goal of any plan brought before the HDC should be to keep as much of the original material and integrity of the exterior structure as possible.
“At this point, they’ve lost some of it… the decorative parapet, the cement, the white cement ornamentation that goes all the way around the building,” Burnash said. “Apparently there’s some water damage that’s getting in there and so chunks of it are falling off, which is why the sidewalk is blocked off. So falling cement doesn’t hit people on the head.”
Burnash said that since the Paterson Building was condemned, Flintstone Investment Group Corp had secured a contractor that works in historic cement, brickwork, and masonry restorations. She said the contractor explained the project thoroughly to the HDC and she felt confident he would be able to match the building’s original parapet exactly.
So, Burnash said, the Historic District Commission approved the plan unanimously.
“I know Morris wants to be a community leader and to invest downtown,” Burnash said. “And that’s a good thing. But these buildings, these old buildings, are expensive. That’s just the nature of it.”
Flintstone Investment Group Corp did not respond to Flint Beat’s request for comment on the repair plan, but Burnash said she had connected them to people who might help them secure financial support to complete the work.
“(Peterson) doesn’t want to be vilified and he shouldn’t be,” Burnash said. “But it’s just super expensive.”
Tenants were notified about the plan via a letter about a week after the HDC approval.
The letter states that the plan to repair the parapet “includes starting on the front of the building and placing a scaffolding tunnel on the sidewalk to protect the pedestrians from falling debris,” and that “once the repairs begin and the scaffolding tunnel is set up the building will no longer be in condemnation, and you will be able to conduct business as usual.”
According to the same letter, the anticipated start date for the work is June 1, pending permit approvals and holidays.
Even with a plan, though, some Paterson Building tenants have already decided they will be moving on.
“My family was already planning some transitions that were coming up,” said Kyona McGhee, attorney and founder of Trademark My Stuff law firm on the first floor of the Paterson Building. “And (the condemnation) just made it all the more clear that it was going to be time for us to find something new for whatever was going to be next for the law firm.”
McGhee said her mother was actually in her first floor office suite when the parapet fell. She sent a video to McGhee showing the damage moments afterward.
“So it was just pretty shocking, really, to see, but I was grateful that no one was hurt and that was really, I thought, the extent of it,” McGhee said. Adding that she only became concerned about needing to move when the city got involved and citations were issued.
She said she decided then that she would end her lease early.
“Obviously, we didn’t plan on making a move before the end of the lease,” McGhee said. “But this expedited the need to find out—to move on to whatever was next.”
McGhee said she will be vacating her unit, which she spent around $30,000 renovating and opened in September 2020, within the next two months.
In the meantime, tenants told Flint Beat that they are traveling to the city’s main post office to get their business’s mail and taking out their own trash, which they assume is because the building’s condemned status means USPS and the cleaning group cannot legally enter.
While acknowledging there are certain inconveniences of trying to operate through the building’s repair plan implementation, neither McGhee nor Arline said they have ill feelings toward Flintstone Investment Group Corp.
“I wouldn’t say trust is lost,” Arline said. “We are at the mercy of the laws. I would hope that the city and the building owner can agree on a plan to protect its clients and the city. I would very much like that to be a thing.”
McGhee said she likely won’t rent a space in a commercial building again and is now considering buying her own building.
“I think it’s a lesson in entrepreneurship honestly,” McGhee said. “Because we could have never seen this coming in any building, honestly. It is a truly unfortunate set of circumstances.”