Now that the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce has relocated, plans to demolish its former home at 131 Hyne St. are underway. The plans are the result of a purchase agreement between the Brighton Downtown Development Authority and Excelda, a chemical manufacture and distributor.
The two-story farmhouse, which was constructed in the late 19th century, is the former home of George Ratz, who operated a hardware store in town during Brighton's early years. For many residents and visitors, the well-maintained and updated house serves as a symbol of Brighton's charm.
Because of its location in the heart of Brighton's thriving downtown, the half-acre site on which the house sits has enormous development potential.
According to Matt Modrack, director of Brighton's Downtown Development Authority, the site's development potential well outweighs the draw of the historic house.
“There's no substitute for the addition of a local, highly dynamic company,” Modrack said. “That's how to make a downtown grow and prosper even if it means structures have to go.”
Excelda, a southeastern Michigan-based company, plans to build a brand new 12,000 square foot brick building on the site. The building will house the company's corporate headquarters and sales department, which amount to roughly 60 employees.
“It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for a city,” Modrack said, citing the increased traffic Excelda's employees and customers will bring to downtown Brighton as well as the growth—by about $20,000—of Brighton's tax base.
Some city residents and business owners aren't as enthusiastic about the deal as Modrack.
Jim Vichich, president of the Brighton Area Historical Society, said that the plans will change the character of Brighton.
“Brighton is known for its quaintness,” Vichich said. “A brick office building doesn't have the same effect as a historic home.”
Vichich also lamented the destruction of the on-site gardens, which are maintained by the Brighton Garden Club and have held weddings and family portrait sessions.
“The city wants to create pocket parks. The green section near the Ratz house is a pocket park, yet it's going to disappear,” Vichich said.
Pat Bayless, who owns Wood N Things, which is located directly across the street from the site, feels similarly.
“I understand the city is pursuing an innovative, dynamic downtown, but look what they're giving up,” Bayless said. “It's like Joni Mitchell said, 'They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.'”
Bayless, who had often dreamed of putting a tea shop in the old house, is also upset that the city kept the sale of the property under wraps.
In a matter of months, the DDA purchased and then sold the site for $450,000 earlier this year before the Chamber of Commerce had even packed its belongings.
“I was very keen on securing the site,” Matt Modrack said. “There isn't another site like it in Brighton, and the hardest thing to do in a downtown is assemble property.”
According to the DDA's redevelopment proposal, one of several objectives for purchasing the site was to “prevent purchase of the site for underdeveloped use.” Instead of a part-time dentist office, for example, Modrack envisioned an enterprising entity that would produce spin-offs to the advantage of the city.
“That's how to make a downtown grow and prosper,” Modrack said.
The DDA is currently considering bids for the building's demolition. Excelda is expected to move in late in 2012.