OWOSSO — A partially collapsed roof on the west end of the Matthews Building, 300 W. Main St., is pitting city officials, expressing concern about safety, against the owners, who say they have been assured by an expert that the building is secure.
Owosso building official Brad Hissong said he believes the owners, real estate brokers/investors Randy and Jim Woodworth, have good intentions in trying to redevelop the building and he is working cooperatively with them on code enforcement.
For example, the city granted the Woodworth brothers an 18-month extension, through July 2020, to address blight and other code enforcement issues.
However, Hissong said he has to draw the line at what, in his view, is a serious public safety issue that opens the city up to possible liability.
“We have said all along, even with the extension of time, that the building must be maintained in a safe condition,” Hissong said. “We tried to be fair and gave them extra time, but now the roof has collapsed, and we don’t know if the wall will collapse on the sidewalk and kill somebody. School kids walk by that building every day.”
The roof over the western portion of the Matthews Building has partially collapsed into the structure. The second floor appears to be holding the debris for the present time. Roofing over other sections of the building remains intact.
About a half-dozen residents have called to express concern about the fallen roof, which is visible through upper windows, the building official said. The dispute has been referred to the parties’ attorneys, he said.
Randy Woodworth responded that the western section of the building, which is two stories tall, retains structural integrity even without a whole roof.
“Yes, a section of the roof on the west end has fallen in,” Woodworth said in an email. “We have always planned on completely replacing that roof. We never shy away from safety concerns and according to our architect, the Matthews Building was built in such a way that the exterior walls do not rely on the roof for structural integrity. The joists run north and south and are (were) supported with columns and beams. The east and west walls are secure. We have invited the city to have their engineers confirm this.”
Hissong said he would appreciate the opportunity to inspect the building where the roof collapsed.
“It’s dangerous,” he said. “We need to take care of it. We’re on top of it.”
Early this year Woodworth told The Argus-Press he still planned to redevelop the section of the Matthews Building next to the river where the part where the roof has fallen. He said Thursday that remains the plan.
“Furthermore, we are continuing our plan to redevelop that building and have secured a restaurant tenant to open along the west end which will include a patio overlooking the river,” Woodworth said. “As we’ve all learned from our many past projects, these things take time and although I wish it could happen immediately, that is not the reality. Despite the current condition and the well known eye-sore this building displays, we are confident it will become a jewel for our community.”
He said he hopes to reveal the identity of the restaurant in June.
When the Woodworths purchased the three-section, 35,000-square-foot building five years ago, they described an ambitious plan to open a brewery/restaurant along the Shiawassee River, loft apartments and retail spaces.
After the cost of rehabilitating the building proved greater than available grant funds, the plan was scaled back to a restaurant in the 8,500-square-foot building along the river.
The site was once home to a brewery operated by the Mueller family.
The brewery operated from about 1896 to sometime between 1910 (the year Shiawassee County went “dry”) and 1919, when Prohibition began.
A man named Roy Matthews purchased and renamed the building in the 1920s, and constructed additions.
More recently, the building housed the Cook Family Foundation, Curwood Festival offices and numerous other businesses.