(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)

 

   The abandoned, now city-owned, old Simplicity factory at 209 S. Oak St., has potential new owners interested in the property. Josh Hicks and John Roberts of J&J Ag Equipment LLC have been to Durand City Council and offered presentations in recent months, expressing an interest in possible redevelopment of the blighted property – with caution offered that any expressed interest is tentative at this time.

   In 2017, the Durand City Council, following the recommendation of former city manager, Colleen O’Toole, passed a Blighted Areas Ordinance for the purpose of seeking state resources for redevelopment of blighted properties in Durand. The first blighted property the council recognized was the old Simplicity building on Oak Street.

   The property includes 2.25 acres of commercially-zoned land tucked between the Durand Depot to the east, with McBride Street to the north and Oak Street to the west. It has been discussed in prior council meetings that the northern portion of the structure, composed of brick with glass windows that have been sprayed with foam insulation, could be salvaged and reutilized. It is that remaining section of the building that J&J Ag Equipment LLC is interested in. Another portion of the old Simplicity factory, a mostly wooden portion of the complex, collapsed in Sept. 2021 following a weekend of heavy rain and high winds.

   In a discussion with Durand City Manager Cameron Horvath on Monday, June 20 at city hall, Horvath offered some details on what is currently happening regarding the property. Horvath stated that 209 S. Oak St. has seen multiple owners over the decades and was last used to house grocery carts for a business, but in the last roughly 10 years, the city has owned the property.

   Horvath said that J&J Ag has roots in the surrounding area, so they do have some local ties. “I should preface this by saying this isn’t a forgone conclusion that this will happen. A lot of the vision they have, or rehab work they have in mind, is dependent upon getting some grant dollars towards this project.”

   Horvath explained that the city does have a purchase agreement with J&J Ag, though it isn’t “executed” and the city has allowed for a long “due-diligence” period to give the prospective owners time to seek grant money, incentives and planning options/information. The city has allowed 180 days or about six months.

   Horvath believes J&J Ag might use the property for warehousing and some light manufacturing. The business is strong on e-commerce, too. “It’s a bit of a mix. They could eventually hire some people, though I’m not sure how many. That’s part of figuring all of this out. Part of their due-diligence.”

   Horvath offered he was initially connected to J&J Ag through Justin Horvath (no family relation) from the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership (SEDP) prior to the collapse of the wooden part of the building in Sept. 2021. Regarding the cleanup, he said that it cost the city $86,000 to clean up the collapse.

   “Because it had fallen, it was a bit of an emergency,” he said. “So we were able to get the site secured to keep the public out and get someone here quickly to clean it up.” He explained how that part had been the most precarious part of the structure, whereas the remaining part seems to be in better shape, admitting he is not a structural engineer.

   “The long and the short of it is that the building is an eyesore. It’s blight. It has been for a long time. People hate looking at it. People especially living on McBride are sick of seeing it in the state that it is in. Everybody that I’ve talked to has been excited about the idea of something happening,” Horvath shared. “Again, it’s still in the early stages, but we’re hopeful the J&J Ag team are the types of individuals that are willing to go the distance with this building. We’ve had a lot of people come in and kick the tires, thinking they could get it for a steel, but not really realize all of the work it’s going to take. That’s certainly not them [J&J Ag]. They’ve done their research and assembled a good team.”

Durand’s Old Simplicity Building Site  was last modified: June 28th, 2022 by Karen Elford