The decay of downtown Calumet has had residents concerned many years. Following the mine closures of the 1960s residents have decried the decline of buildings and loss of businesses in the downtown area. As businesses and residents have left the area the tax base in Calumet has suffered and with it the ability of the Village to provide services and maintain the communities aging infrastructure. It is apparent to all that the state of disrepair and lack of up-to-date housing in the downtown area must be remedied in order for Calumet to revitalize.
While the problems are obvious the solutions are more elusive. Rehabbing large historic structures is a costly undertaking and when a timely return on such an investment is uncertain it’s difficult for building owners to commit to such projects. Calumet has also suffered from lack of a minimum maintenance standard or blight ordinance to set expectations for building owners (the Village Council is currently working to pass this legislation currently).*
There have been several successful rehabilitation projects in the downtown area, some privately funded and others funded with some combination of both private and grant monies (see images). Despite these efforts there is currently a backlog of threatened properties. Aware of the need and seeing great opportunity, in early 2016, Jeff Ratcliffe, Executive Director, at Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance (KEDA) began devising a plan to help Calumet revitalize its downtown, a plan he named Bring Back Calumet.
To start, he set about creating a redevelopment catalog for Calumet, or prospectus, including information on area demographics, design professionals and a list of the threatened buildings in the downtown (with photos, ownership information, dimensions and condition of each structure). He spent months gathering information from local administrators and realty websites and ended up with a document that seems to accurately portray both the great opportunity and amount of work needed in downtown Calumet.
At the same time Ratcliffe worked with a small group to create a presentation for grant funding from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). Chris Green from the Village of Calumet Historic District Commission (HDC) and John Rosemurgy, Keweenaw National Historical Park (KNHP) Architect, provided the scope of work necessary to “mothball” (complete construction tasks necessary to stabilize and prevent further decay and secure the building from break-ins) each building and LJJ Construction then provided cost estimates for the designated projects. John Arnold, architect and PhD Candidate in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology at Michigan Technological University created graphic overlays of historic building location maps with present day structures. These images provide the reality of the fragmentation of the downtown district since the early 1900s. The group ultimately prioritized 11 threatened buildings in the Calumet Historic District and worked to translate the value, opportunity and cost to stabilize these structures into a presentation that would be used to sell Calumet to outsiders.
In July, 2016 both the presentation and prospectus were complete and Ratcliffe was able to entice three representatives from MSHDA to fly to Calumet to hear the Bring Back Calumet presentation and see the community themselves. On hand to greet them Ratcliffe had gathered a large group of community stakeholders; local developers, bankers, representatives from CLK Schools, Houghton County, Main Street Calumet, the Village of Calumet, Calumet Historic District Commission, KNHP, HDC, KNHP Advisory Commission, and State Representative Scott Dianda.
MSHDA representatives Andrew Martin, Michelle Wildman and State Historic Preservation Officer Brian Conway all seemed adequately impressed with the sandstone architecture and historic feel of Calumet but instantly denied the initial ask of $1.3 million to stabilize 11 buildings.
While the initial proposal was denied, MSHDA suggested Calumet reapply with a narrowed scope. Ratcliffe then reconvened the community stakeholders interested and available to form the Bring Back Calumet Task Force. The Task Force then began what became a seven month process of whittling down the stabilization wish list and resubmitting applications until finally, after three attempts, in January, 2017 MSHDA awarded Calumet $33,000 to fund stabilization of one building.
After months of pruning the building selected for the grant was 512 Portland Street, often called the Curto Saloon or Wine Cellar. Standing on the Southeast corner of 6th and Portland, 512 Portland Street was an easy selection for the Task Force to agree on, according to Village President and Task Force Member, Dave Geisler. He listed the following attributes, "this structure is wood framed, not sandstone and thus easier to repair. It is owned by the Village of Calumet Downtown Development Authority (DDA), which removes access issues. It is in a high visibility area and when addressed will remove an eyesore from the landscape. Lastly this building is relatively small and stabilization will only require re-roofing and masonry work in the basement." Geisler reports that, "these fixes won’t make the building new again but they will prevent further deterioration and make it a more attractive project for potential investors."
At the Tuesday, February 21st meeting of the Calumet Village Council the paperwork for the MSHDA grant should be signed and the process both complete and just begun. A call for construction bids will take place over the next few months, when contractors can gain access to the structure and the project at 512 Portland Street should be finished by the end of summer 2017.
As is common with grants, the applicant in this case must come up with matching funds. While this particular grant does not give a specific percentage that must be contributed by local dollars the suggestion was 30%. To gather the needed funding the Task Force reached out local organizations, businesses and municipalities to support the Bring Back Calumet effort. Together, the River Valley Bank Foundation, the Village of Calumet, KNHP Advisory Commission, Main Street Calumet and the Houghton County Lank Bank pledged $49,000 to supply the matching funds needed. This amount was gathered to cover matching funds for an earlier application which would have covered two buildings and can now be used in the next application.
The next MSHDA grant cycle opens in March/April, 2017 and the task force intends to submit another application for a new group of projects. The Task Force is also working to obtain funding (which must be matched with local dollars) from the Upper Peninsula Collaborative Development Council (UPCDC) to have structural evaluations performed on four publically owned buildings on the threatened list. Cost per building is estimated at $2500 and would provide any potential buyers with accurate information on structural issues, current floor plans and quotes for structural repairs.
*In an effort to prevent the downtown buildings from going the way of the dodo, in 2013 the Village of Calumet adopted a Demolition by Neglect Ordinance which provides a guideline for maintenance and a method for enforcement. The Ordinance allows for inspection and evaluation of a building to determine what repairs need to stabilize a structure. Once an analysis is done the owner will be asked to make the necessary repairs and if declined the Village can have repairs done and a lien on all of the titleholder’s Michigan properties. This process requires that the Village have funding to pay for legal fees and recommended construction should an owner decline to undertake work themselves. With little extra funding the Village of Calumet has not yet been able to utilize this ordinance.
View the Demolition by Neglect Ordinance.
Read more about the history of 512 Portland Street and proposed rehab.
View the Bring Back Calumet Prospectus.
View the initial MSHDA presentation.
KNHP Architect, John Rosemurgy and Architectural Tech. Tom Sickles have created a series of renderings that reflect current conditions and recommended rehabilitation actions for 512 Portland. View the PDF here. *Note rehab recommendations are draft schematic concepts not for construction.
Compiled by Lynette WEbber, Keweenaw National Historical Park