Dowagiac addresses blighted downtown property

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2023

DOWAGIAC — A Dowagiac property that has long been a cause for concern by the community was addressed by the Dowagiac City Council Monday night.

The council unanimously voted to condemn 226 S. Front St. – a downtown Dowagiac building formerly home to The Vape Saloon – and the walk-in cooler structure behind 137 S. Front St. 

Owners of the two properties will have 30 days to take out a building permit and six months to make repairs to address their properties’ issues, with the owner of the cooler being tasked with demolishing and removing the cooler. Failing to do so would bring the properties into the city’s control.

Concerning the 226 S. Front St. building, the city begins a process that will allow it to determine if the building is demolished, renovated or sold. The property, currently owned by PAF Group LLC, has been vacant since 2019 and has deteriorated to the point that it is in consistent violation of the zoning and property maintenance codes. 

“It is probably the last un-restored building in downtown Dowagiac and it shows it,” said Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons. “It either needs to be rehabbed and become part of the downtown in every sense or it needs to be taken down.”

A community member who owns 220 S. Front St. adjacent to the property expressed his concerns about its state of disrepair.

“We’re up there in the evenings and there’s 30-pound raccoons climbing up the walls going in,” he said. “There’s a nest of cats going in and out of the side of the building.”

Chief Grady recognized 

The council also voted to name the City of Dowagiac’s Police Station the “Chief George L. Grady Police Station” in recognition and appreciation of his public service during the watershed events of the Civil Rights era.

Dowagiac, the State of Michigan and the national Civil Rights era. When Dowagiac named him Chief of Police in August 1965, Grady became the first Black Chief of Police in the history of the State of Michigan and the second in the United States – the first since shortly after the Civil War.

His appointment made headlines across the nation and opened doors for other cities to move forward with the hiring and promoting of other Black public servants. Chief Grady served ten years as Chief of Police, earning the respect of the community and his peers across the state, while overseeing the City’s Police force during a turbulent time of American history. 

Over the past two years, City Manager Kevin Anderson, Mayor Lyons and Dowagiac Area HHistory Museum Director Steve Arseneau have worked with the family of Chief Grady to find an appropriate way to respectfully acknowledge his legacy.  After many discussions, the city determined that the naming of the Police Station at City Hall after Chief George Grady is the best way to etch this watershed event of the Civil Rights era in the community’s collective memory.

The city will host a formal dedication at 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 24 at City Hall Park at Dowagiac City Hall 241 S. Front Street. The community is invited to join.

Cell tower lease

In other business, the city approved a ground lease agreement with Towerco 2013 LLC for a cell tower to be located at 200 E. Division St. Towerco approached the city regarding placement of a tower in the city that would allow for improved cell service to the community and provide a long term revenue stream for the city. After review of numerous locations, it was determined that a location on a corner of the former “old grey” building is the best option due its central location to users and the use is allowed within the current zoning of the property.

The initial term is for five years with an initial monthly rent of $1,300 per month that will increase 2 percent per year thereafter. There are options to renew built into the agreement. If more than one carrier attaches to the pole, rent will increase. All costs and risk for the project will be borne by the purchaser/developer. The terms are consistent with other cell tower leases the city has with carriers.

The council also approved the annual Black Family Celebration event set to take place Saturday, Sept. 9 at Walter Ward Park. The annual event will have food, games and entertainment at no cost to the community. The event’s purpose has been to promote and unify the African American community in Dowagiac since 1991.