Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Genesee Towers: It Won't Go Down Without a Very Expensive Fight

Genesee Towers is Flint's tallest and arguably its ugliest building. But the abandoned eyesore at 120 E. First Street near the venerable Mott Foundation Building is also the biggest example Flint's fall from prosperity. Here's a timeline of the ongoing saga based on the excellent coverage by The Flint Journal's Kristen Longley:

1968: Genesee Towers built to house the former Genesee Merchants Bank.

2001: Owner V. Kumar Vemulapalli is first cited by the city for code violations.

2002: Building is vacant.

2004: City condemns the 19-story building. "The building has to come down, or someone's going to get killed," says former Mayor Don Williamson.

2004: Kumar Vemulapalli sues the city for condemning the building.

2006: City and Vemulapalli agree to enter arbitration to determine the value of the property. "By agreeing to that process, [Williamson] effectively agreed to pay whatever the arbitrator said was the fair market value," current City Attorney Pete Bade told the Journal this fall.

2007: City closes traffic lanes surrounding the building to prevent injuries from falling debris.

2007: Arbitrator awards Vemulapalli more than $6 million, including legal fees, plus interest.

2007 - 2009: The case is appealed multiple times with the city arguing the arbitrator exceeded his scope of authority in reaching the decision.

2009: In December, the Court of Appeals upholds the arbitration award.

2010: In June, the Michigan Supreme Court refuses to hear city's final appeal of the Court of Appeals decision.

2010: In October, City Assessor William Fowler announces that state law requires the city to put a millage on the property tax rolls to pay for the judgment, which has now climbed to more than $8 million. While the exact amount is yet to be determined, it is estimated that the tax will cost the average Flint homeowner $150.

2010: In November, the Genesee Landlords Association sues the city over the plan to tax property owners in December to pay for the judgment. "We want to make sure before they spread this $8 million to the taxpayers that the city truly does not have any cash to pay it with," says Terry Hanson, executive director of the landlords association.

To be continued...


  1. Wow, another seed from Williamson's idiocy.

    I have to admit, I used to hate the Towers due to it's ugliness. A friend of mine who visited, saw the "coolness" of the building... "it has a hole in the middle"... to the point that I now liken it to the chartreuse of Flint. It's so ugly, it's cool.

    I would hate to see another building torn down.

  2. It would be close to the final coffin nail if it is brought down.

    Flint has long put function over form. Genesee Bank wanted to be the tallest building in Flint in the worst way. And apparently that meant cutting corners including esthetics. But then again, is the CN Tower in Toronto that beautiful? And the Eiffel Tower-hasn't that been an acquired taste?

    Many said the World Trade Center in New York was ugly, and doesn't it seem that there is no hurry to rebuild?

  3. First, why the hell did Williamson agree to arbitration. The city held the upper hand up to that point. The owner had a building that had been cited numerous times. With arbitration, the city loses that advantage and rolls the dice. Why?!

    Second, despite what I just said, where the hell did the arbiter come up with that valuation? $6 million! For a condemned building in downtown Flint, Michigan! You've got to be kidding me. Given Flint's situation, I'd say the building had a negative value.

    And keep in mind that once the Flint taxpayers pay for the building, all that means is that the city now owns a building that will probably be torn down or cost a bundle to rehab, assuming anyone wants to move in once the renovation is complete. In other words, $8 million is just the start. This will cost a lot more down the line.

    UM-Flint or Mott Foundation...please save us from this situation.

  4. Anonymous with the creative name spelling...I share your feelings! But I have to ask you to restate them minus the personal attacks, which I work hard to stay clear of. I think a lot of people will agree with your take, and I appreciate you taking the time to comment. All I ask is that you restate it and make it less personal. Feel free to email me directly to clarify. Sorry for the hassle.

  5. well, it is personal to me, as i work in downtown Flint and live in Genesee County. But, i will try this again.

    The city of Flint may have put themselves in this situation, and i am no fan of Don Williamson and the things he did and didn't do as mayor of Flint. And, in the technical legal sense, this outcome may be correct.

    But, i speak from a higher moral level. And from there, i believe that the Vemulapallis have acted in a negligent manner by failing to maintain their building, so that it became an eyesore and hazard to the people of Flint. I feel that they have done this with contempt for the people of Flint and with gross disregard for anything other than their profit. They are far from alone in this, and in fact are merely a local representation of capitalist greed and inhumanity more generally. If they have any sense of good citizenship and morality, they will drop this case, admit that their negligence caused the problem, and not force the people of Flint, many of whom are poor, to further line the already stuffed pockets of the Vemulapallis.

    i hope this try is not too personal. i feel that in some ways it is unavoidably personal, and that the shortsighted greed of the upper classes must be called out and exposed for what it is.

  6. I agree, Anonymous, but you said it much more eloquently than I could. The Vemulapallis also owned the now-demolished Flint Medical Arts Building on Flushing Rd., and it was in much worse shape than the towers, at least on the outside.

    I must say though, that much of what you said about them could also be said about Don Williamson. His greed has helped close up many dealerships, leaving only one in the Flint city limits. Aside from that, the financial mismanagement during his tenure as mayor has put us in dire straits. The fact that he's moving out of the city into Davison Township is further proof that he doesn't give a damn about Flint.

  7. I believe Kumar Vemulapalli also owned the Durant prior to the sale that initiated the current renovations.

    As a real estate investor, he's been a "bottom feeder". He's bought highly distressed stuff cheap, and held it as long as he could in the hope that circumstances would turn around and someone would want to buy it for more than he paid.

    Flint does need "bottom feeders". Without Vemulapalli, the Durant might well have been knocked down years ago.

    He probably made some money on the Durant, though he had his investment tied up for a long time. He likely lost money on the Medical Arts Building. He's probably making money on Genesee Towers, but again he's had his investment tied up for a long time.

    Would temporarily distressed cities like Flint be better off without bottom feeders, if it meant that all of their temporarily underutilized older buildings--the gems as well as the architectural mistakes--were knocked down instead?

  8. At the very least, Dayne oughta rename the building "Williamson Tower"

  9. This pretty good for a building that cost 7 Mill to build and the Taxpayers had to come up with 6.5 mill over a lawsuit from the Property owner had with the City Of Flint after he only paid 5 hundred thousand for it in the first place. Now they are spending another 4 Mill to tear it down. So wonder the People of Flint are going down the tube with leaders like this.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.