A new beginning

HANCOCK – It’s been more than four years since a fire destroyed the interior of the building at 116 Quincy St. in Hancock, and although it was uncertain for years if the building could be saved, it now has tenants in all seven of its new apartments, and a business on the ground floor set to open this month.

Mike Lahti, real estate developer and building owner, said he started renting the apartments in March, and the last one was filled the middle of July.

“It pretty much filled up quickly,” he said.

The renovation of the interior of the building, which began just about one year ago, was funded by a combination of Lahti’s money and a $245,000 loan from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. If all MSHDA regulations are followed, in five years the loan will become a grant.

Lahti said four of the apartments in the building have MSHDA-regulated rents, but they can become market-rate apartments after five years or after the original tenants move out. The other three apartments are market-rate rentals.

For about three years, after debris from the fire – which resulted in four deaths – was removed and the building was stabilized, the building sat unused and its future was uncertain until Lahti bought it in November 2011.

When the building’s previous owner didn’t get it rebuilt after the fire, it went to Houghton County tax auctions in August and October 2011, but no one bought it. The Hancock City Council members declined to buy it at their October 2011 regular meeting. It then reverted to the Houghton County Land Bank, which considered tearing it down.

On the ground floor of the building is Blue Terra Energy. Owner Dave Camps said the company does installations of heating, venting and air conditioning, and solar panels. They also do energy audits of buildings.

Camps said Lahti has been open to the needs of the company regarding the building.

“Mike’s been very good to us,” he said.

Blue Terra is expected to open by the middle of September.

One of Blue Terra’s employees is Cassandra Barry, who is also a tenant in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment.

Barry said she was impressed with the apartment when she first saw it.

“I like it a lot,” she said. “The two bathrooms and the (large) living room sold us.”

Barry shares the apartment with Jordyn Romps, who said she also appreciates what it has to offer.

“I love it a lot,” she said.

There are two apartments on the ground floor with lofts, which look down into each apartment’s living room.

Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson said he and the members of the city council are pleased to have the building full and in use again.

The Houghton County Land Bank came close to demolishing the building, Anderson said.

“There was a high probability the county would have to spend money to destroy it,” he said.

Anderson said the building is functioning again because of the partnership of Lahti, MSHDA, the Land Bank and the city of Hancock.

“The project took a significant liability and turned it into a great asset for the city,” he said.

Lahti said the building now has a fire suppression system, which it didn’t have previously. It also has a security system and a laundry room for tenants.

He’s pleased with the results of the renovation of the building, Lahti said.

“It turned out nice,” he said.

The fact the apartments filled so quickly is evidence people want to live in downtown Hancock, Lahti said.

“There’s a lot good about downtown,” he said.