Revitalization in store for two prominent downtown buildings
Two of Tecumseh’s most familiar downtown buildings are in the process of having new life breathed into them with plans to potentially include future residential upper story renovation. Dan Meikle, who grew up in the Tecumseh-Clinton area, formed The Union Block 1849 LLC and The James Block 1894 LLC to purchase the structures.
The Union Block 1849 Building is more familiar to locals since it was home to The Chocolate Vault for many years. After listing and quickly selling his own residence, a 1926 Bungalow in Ypsilanti that he had restored, Meikle believes that his next step with the Tecumseh building was meant to be. It had been on the market for seven years, and he was immediately drawn to the structure.
When he first saw it, someone else was looking at it, but later on, another opportunity presented itself.
“The purchase was made on Black Friday, and it’s the biggest purchase I’ve ever made,” said Meikle. “I can tell you during that process with Jim and Barbara McCann, there wasn’t a dry eye in that closing room.” He said he has remained in touch with the McCanns, who still care immensely about Tecumseh, as he’s researched the building’s background and history. He already has lease agreements with two businesses for the ground floor retail space.
“The Spotted Cow is going through inspections and waiting for approval from the Health Department,” said Meikle. “Their intention, I believe, is to be open soon.” This will be the county’s third location for the ice cream shop, owned and operated by Matt and Stacy Baker. Meikle said Foundation Realty, owned by Matt’s brother, Mark Baker, should also be opening in early April.
When things were in limbo with the Union Block Building, Meikle had been visiting Tecumseh when he noticed that the James Block Building, which he said some know as the “James Masonic Building,” was for sale. Since he thought the Union Block purchase was not going to happen at the time, he toured the building and later made an offer. That deal was closed earlier this year. He is pleased that the Wild Iris leases the retail space downstairs in the James Block 1894 Building.
“Nancy [Prezioso] is a great asset to downtown Tecumseh and her store is awesome,” Meikle said. “She’s a very creative and engaging person for the City of Tecumseh and her store being there made me feel very reassured in moving forward.”
Meikle, who is a corporate pilot, spent his early school years in Tecumseh, then his family moved to Clinton. He graduated from Clinton High School.
“I’ve always had connections to Tecumseh,” Meikle said. “My first job was at McDonalds here, and the first church I attended was Tecumseh United Methodist.” He therefore, feels very comfortable living downtown in an upper story of the Union Block 1849 Building, and intends to be involved in community activities. Although he considers himself very much a background person, he’s been active in such activities as Ypsilanti’s historic events and the Homeowners Association Board.
“I work best in the background and that’s where I like to be, not out front,” he said. He’s noticed, however, that sometimes God calls him to be out front in various circumstances and he does his best to comply. He’s also a member of the Moravian Church in Westland where he serves as trustee and youth director.
There is a five-year business plan involving both buildings, he said, and he’s been working with Tecumseh Economic Development Director Paula Holtz on submitting an application to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority which offers grant assistance for rental rehabilitation.
“What I’d like to do is create five, second and third floor residential units, hopefully by next year,” he said. Grant awards are announced in June. The work would begin with the James Block 1894 Building and also include rehabilitation of 50 windows, retaining as many as possible, façade renovation, and preservation of original work where possible. He said it is a building that has already been identified as one the state would like to see rehabilitated or renovated and is pivotal for a national landmark district.
“My intention once the building is fully occupied is to begin renovating the second floor of the Union Block with three residential lofts on the second floor,” he said, adding that the steps are all dependent on the ones before them, such as being able to finance the renovations. The Union Block 1849 building has 20-foot ceilings that would make them ideal for lofts. He’d also like to utilize local contractors to the extent possible.
More in line with a long-range plan would be a future plan to renovate the Union Hall Ballroom that many of the community’s seniors remember as the place to be in the 1900s. While that part of the plan is down the road, Meikle said that complimentary use of the hall might include something like having the group using it make a donation to the Downtown Development Authority rather than a rental fee, as well as the Historic Preservation Commission, and adhere to a stipulation that any catering or supplies be purchased from Tecumseh merchants. If the ballroom is restored, Meikle could see holding special events there for seniors and others to include big band music.
Work has already begun on the buildings with new roofing being put in place on the Union Block 1849 Building last week. Meikle said he recently learned that with the cupola on top, the structure was once the tallest structure in Tecumseh until the Tecumseh Presbyterian Church put up its spire.
“I like old things and the way things used to be, even though my dad says, ‘Today is the good old days’,” Meikle said. He added that it’s an honor to be able to play a role in revitalizing part of downtown Tecumseh. “You know, God puts us in certain places for certain reasons. There’s no way the chips would have fallen in place the way they have if it hadn’t been for someone giving me a helpful push, if it wasn’t meant to happen this way. It’s just been orchestrated so well. People have to have faith in their walk.”