PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Plainfield Township residents and officials have spent more than two decades watching a prime retail location go unused, helpless to do anything about it.
Pat Palma has lived in the neighborhood near Jupiter and Plainfield avenues NE, north of Grand Rapids, for 60 years. Her daughter used to work at the Witmark that backs up to her backyard. She has watched over the last 22 years as the Witmark building, once a nice place to shop, has fallen into disrepair.
“We’ve been hoping for years that something would be done with it. It’s a nuisance,” Palma told News 8 Tuesday.
She said she has seen the building vandalized and consumed by vegetation and neglect.
“We don’t understand why they don’t do something with it,” Palma said
It hasn’t been for lack of trying by township officials.
“It’s certainly the biggest eyesore and the biggest frustration point in our community,” Plainfield Township Superintendent Cameron Van Wyngarden said.
Once Witmark had locations throughout Michigan, operating with a unique shopping experience that saved shoppers money on brand-name items, but the scheme fell apart and the stores folded. Securities and Exchange Commission records show that in 1997, Witmark ended up paying $120,000 and turning the Plainfield Township property over to New York-based Regency Equities Corporation, which is operated by attorney and political activist Martin Oliner.
“There’s been serious interest in this building, proposals for outright purchase, for lease, for sinking money into the building to make it a usable structure again, and all have fallen on deaf ears,” Van Wyngarden said.
The realty company has brought dozens of people through the property and received a legitimate offer of $1.8 million, far more than the appraised value, but it was rejected.
Van Wyngarden said the township approached the owner about turning the building into a community center. That never happened.
As the property deteriorates, its value continues to decline. There is grass growing in the parking lot and on the crumbling roof. Most of the graffiti has been painted over, but it’s still clear where it was. The walls and foundation are fine, but the roof is in terrible shape and it would have to be totally refurbished for the building to be used again.
“It’s unfortunately a bit of a running joke in the community about what’s going on in this building and unfortunately right now, there’s nothing going on,” Van Wyngarden said.
News 8 called the owner in New York but had not heard back as of Tuesday evening.
No one else is sure why he is willing to allow the property to lie fallow — though he continues to do just enough upkeep to avoid violating township ordinances.
“As long as he complies with our ordinances, there’s little we can do to keep this building from sitting vacant,” Van Wyngarden said.
“It’s very frustrating for us. It is something we’d like to do something about and to have that win for our community,” he added.