WHITE PIGEON, Mich. (WOOD) — The St. Joseph County village of White Pigeon won’t have to worry about a key building in its main street being torn down for now.
One of the village’s tallest buildings is the former Tasty Nut Shop and Soda Bar, which claimed at one point to have the “largest assortment of toasted nuts in the U.S.”
Over the past few months, the condemned building’s fate was in legal limbo on whether or not it would be taken down for safety reasons.
Doug Kuhlman, who serves as the village’s zoning administrator, says a structural engineer’s report concluded that the building “has outlived its life, is beyond repair, and it needs to be demolished.”
“I don’t think there is anyone that wants to see that building torn down,” Kuhlman explained. “But the village is responding to complaints and doing what is necessary to preserve public safety.”
He referred to loose bricks being found on the sidewalks below and the danger of the building collapsing while cars are passing by.
But the group who now owns the building, Union Hall Block Building, Inc., says three other independent structural engineers had a different conclusion.
“‘Yes, it’s in disrepair. Yes, it needs to be stabilized and it needs to be worked on. But it can be done,'” said UHBBI Board President Gretchen Andersen.
UHBBI began restoration plans since the building’s ownership was given to them in May. But the green light was given to demolish it until Tuesday night, when the village’s Construction Board of Appeals reversed it.
“This wasn’t an idea of condemnation. This was an idea of, ‘Can you stabilize it? Can you restore it?’ And the answer was yes,” Andersen said.
The decision came with a couple of conditions from the board of appeals to the ownership group.
“‘Yes, we want the building to remain. We’d like you to stabilize it. We’ve given you the time frame for what we want,'” Andersen said. “The open-ended question was, ‘Well, do you have the money to be able to do it?’ Of course, the answer was yes.”
The price tag for stabilization alone is $35,000.
According to Kuhlman, the two conditions in the agreement are that the building’s owner has to put fencing around the building with proper signage and must install mesh over the building to hold it together. If both are not met in 90 days after the decision, which comes to Jan. 30, 2023, the order for demolition will go back into effect. If the building is stabilized, UHBBI has 90 additional days to get engineer and architectural plans submitted for the next steps in repairing the building.
Future restoration restoration plans include two retail spaces, a re-opening of the Tasty Nut Shop and a museum highlighting its roots dating back to the 1850s: from one of the earliest uses of air conditioning, to its role in the Underground Railroad.
“It had five tunnels that eradicated out into the town. It had a railroad that went by. You put two and two together, it became a pathway for slaves to freedom into Canada because that train ran all the way to Detroit.”
Andersen does not know cost estimates for the restoration portion of the project, but Kuhlman said it would come to about $3 million.
“When you have something this historical in a town that is this historical — and it is unique — it is something that is worth saving,” Andersen added.