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Special Report - Buildings on the Brink

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – 32 buildings in the Greater Kalamazoo Area are listed as dangerous or structurally unsound according to documents obtained by the I-Team through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The FOIA request was prompted by the partial collapse of a large building located at 619 Porter in Downtown Kalamazoo back in February.

Shortly after the collapse, city officials told Newschannel 3 the building was classified as “structurally unsound” and suffered from years of neglect.

Kalamazoo Building Official Robert McNutt says although the number of structurally unsound buildings in Kalamazoo pales in comparison to Detroit or other cities, it’s still a huge concern that affects public safety and property values.

“I call it milking the property to the point where it’s completely unsalvageable,” he said, referring to property owners who sometimes buy or acquire buildings and then proceed to neglect them.

“It’s not fair to everyone else to try an take care of that person’s lack of care,” he added.

In the case of the building at 619 Porter, the I-Team learned the owner listed on tax paperwork appears to be located in Australia, McNutt says that makes fining the owner, and potentially serving the owner with legal papers, almost impossible.

Other properties on the “dangerous buildings” list can sometimes come under the ownership of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, a quasi-government entity if taxes aren’t paid by property owners.

The Land Bake, partially funded by tax-dollars --- tries to eliminate blighted properties, but sometimes the buildings are too far gone – like the building located at 1301 Cameron, where debris and bricks have fallen on nearby grass.

Assistant Land Bank Director Michelle Tombro Tracy said 1301 Cameron is currently in disrepair, but said a structural engineer is slated to take a look at the building before deciding whether or not it’s salvageable.

McNutt, however, warns that demolishing buildings can get extremely pricey, and ultimately, that money comes from taxpayers in most cases when property owners simply fail to take care of their property or cannot be found.

“It’s hard to come up with the financing for that,” McNutt added. “That’s one of the frustrating parts for us, we don’t want to make the rest of the citizens pay for one person’s bad conduct.”

McNutt says stronger laws and more government grants will be key to making sure Kalamazoo is able to keep all buildings safe, while eliminating the properties that have been neglected.

Meanwhile, he insists the city is doing everything it can to keep properties safe.

“We still have our problems but overall, given the circumstances we’re doing a good job,” he said.

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