Matthews Building owner faces misdemeanor

Sunlight shines Wednesday through the partially open roof of the Matthews Building, 300 W. Main St. in Owosso.

OWOSSO — The owner of the Matthews Building, 300 W. Main St., soon will be arraigned on a misdemeanor code violation for failing to make the dilapidated building safe.

A court hearing in 66th District Court before Judge Ward Clarkson is set for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“The owner is claiming it’s not his responsibility (to make repairs),” Owosso City Manager Nathan Henne said. “The city finds his position ridiculous — we’re going to keep fighting this.”

The misdemeanor citation was issued after owner Nemer Haddad refused to pay several rounds of code violation tickets city officials have issued since March for failing to make any city-ordered repairs to the structure, including to a partially collapsed roof.

The city is seeking the $6,000 officials say Haddad owes for the first round of 12 tickets — $500 each — plus enforcement costs, Henne said. Haddad, a businessman who lives in southeast Michigan, did not respond to The Argus-Press’ request for comment Wednesday.

The Matthews Building, purchased by Haddad last fall, has long been targeted for redevelopment. A few months ago, the roof on the western section of the building collapsed, leaving the interior open to the weather. Officials have demanded Haddad fix the roof and make various other repairs to ensure the structure is stable and safe.

City officials to date have issued three rounds of tickets. They have said they had hoped to avoid taking Haddad to court, preferring to obtain his cooperation instead.

The city has extra leverage in its effort to get the building repaired: Haddad’s medical marijuana license, which the city is holding as collateral in an agreement he cut with the city.

Haddad had planned to place a marijuana retail store inside the Matthews building but then found out his state-financing deal was off because a marijuana-related business was involved.

He had intended to use the state funds to redevelop the building. Last October, city officials entered into an agreement with Haddad in which he promised to either rehabilitate or demolish the building within 36 months.

Under the agreement, Haddad guaranteed one of three outcomes:

n Rehabilitate the Matthews Building in partnership with the city, Michigan Economic Development Corporation by resurrecting plans for a “capital stack” of financing that included previously awarded city abatements, MEDC grant dollars and private investment; or

n If the capital stack doesn’t work out, bring the building up to code by making necessary repairs; or

n If the capital stack doesn’t work out, demolish the building in accordance with the city’s building code.

The parties also agreed the building would continue to be subject to code enforcement. In return, the city agreed to allow the new owner to relocate his planned marijuana provisioning center to a different building, within local zoning regulations.

“We have more leverage with the agreement,” Henne previously said during a council meeting. “(Haddad) could lose money if we revoke the (medical marijuana provisioning center) license. We hope they take it seriously.”

The Matthews Building has been vacant or underutilized for decades. About five years ago, local developer Randy Woodworth and partners purchased the building with a plan is to renovate the roughly 35,000-square-foot space into 20 or so high-end apartments, and office and retail space. The section of the building that abuts the river, formerly a brewery, was to have been redeveloped into a brew pub.

In January 2019, Woodworth announced a scaled-back plan to develop the building section along the river into a restaurant, saying the cost to rehab the building was significantly more than the grant dollars lined up, making the project financially unfeasible. Then Woodworth sold the building to Haddad.

The cost to completely rehabilitate the building would be about $8 million, Henne has said.

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