In the gold old days — about 1999 — developers were rushing to put up new buildings for manufacturers and small businesses, farmland north of 23 Mile Road almost overnight was being converted into subdivisions, empty houses were selling at a premium price. Early in my journalism career, I was reminded by one of the movers and shakers in Alpena — whose name I left out of a story — that names make news. Another commandment was never run a photo that doesn’t have a person in it. Well, once again, I’m wrong. Seems the top newsmakers lately are empty buildings. They get even more exciting when put into a Top Five list.

1. Overdrawn

The Bank

This bank is an architectural wonder that was built for $300,000 in 1961 and was initially the Mount Clemens Federal Savings and Loan. But the building has struggled to keep tenants. A couple years ago, an entrepreneur decided it would be cool as an upscale martini bar. The county decided it would be a good idea to help foster this venture. But there aren’t as many upscale people as believed. We’re just common folk here, I guess. By the time The Bank opened, the hoity-toity crowd had fled Michigan. The Bank has been empty for nearly a year. The county is stuck with a building that was valued at $875,000 a few years ago, but at best would fetch $300,000, according to Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. The big boss wants to know what should be done with the building, and the option of razing it has been raised.

Here are some ideas shared on the Macomb Daily Facebook page:

Margaret Ferguson This would make a great blown glass studio and showroom. They should offer this building to the people that currently have a studio in the old gas station. The gas station is an eye sore and should be demolished rather than the historical Bank.”

John Wesley How about a day-care center for kids?”

Steven Thomas Let that ugly thing fly away. You know it wants to.”

Karen Bilicki Mt. Clemens can do without another bar. Old fashion burgers and ice cream is its style”

Bill Shadowens Brew Pub / Brewery!”

Exec Hackel said The Bank has become an “attractive nuisance” for vagrants and the homeless who use it as a place to sleep.

Maybe we could turn it into an upscale homeless shelter?

2. No joke

Perhaps Macomb County was just not in the mood to laugh … or bowl … or dance. The Fountainview Lanes complex in Clinton Township is yet another nightclub that turned from a hotspot into a not-so-hotspot. But hope springs eternal. Michael Cooley is ready to re-invent the facility as a dance club, except this time for teens. He’s already been approved by the Clinton Township planning commission, after agreeing to meet the following conditions:

  • No loitering outside of the building;
  • No speakers on the exterior;
  • Adequate security will be on site when the club is open;
  • A security plan will be developed and approved by the police department to address any issues inside or outside of the building;
  • And no Celine Dion songs, under penalty of death.

Okay, so that last condition was just my suggestion. In a nutshell, Cooley wants this to be a fun place for teens to have some wholesome fun. But there is one Clinton Township trustee who doesn’t think that’s possible:

“The history of these teen nightclubs shows they tend to attract the wrong element,” Treasurer Bill Sowerby said. “Teens today are already challenged by drugs and other problems that may be infiltrated in schools and neighborhoods. I don’t think this will add value to our community, but I will listen to their presentation.”

Well, at least he’s willing to listen. I admire Mr. Cooley for wanting to do something for kids. I’ve also had visions of opening up a fun place for teens to hang out. But part of me is skeptical. I’ve worked at a business targeted toward youngsters. They don’t always have a lot of income at their disposal. A club this size has lots of overhead and a sizable chunk of money must be invested. Without liquor sales, I’m not sure what kind of cash it will bring in. Kids can only chug so many Mountain Dews in a night. However, Mr. Cooley has business savvy that I lack, and I wish him the best.

3. School’s out forever

Charles F. Kettering High School/photo from Flickriver: JVLIS

Macomb County is home to some of the largest school buildings in the state. Anchor Bay High School and Dakota are so big, the walk between classes alone should solve the obesity crisis among our teens. Big new schools aren’t always the answer, reports Corey Williams of The Associated Press:

More than a dozen Detroit Public Schools buildings — including several high schools — will close and many students reassigned before the start of fall classes as the district continues to slash costs and consolidate programs to improve learning.

The closures are the latest of dozens for a district losing thousands of students each year.

All of the closures and consolidations are expected to save the district about $9.1 million annually in operating costs.

City, Kettering, Finney, Southwestern, Crocket and Mumford high schools are among the buildings that will close.

Fortunately, not all news is bad:

In addition to the closures announced Wednesday by state-appointed emergency manager Roy Roberts, four newly constructed schools will be opened.

When I moved my family to Decatur, Ill., in 1996, the school my eldest daughter attended was built around 1898. When we moved to Macomb County, my kids attended two elementary schools that were brand new. But it’s not sleek buildings that attract families to districts. It’s the quality of education. Most families who take their kids out of Detroit schools want something better for their kids. Many others say they are just concerned about their kids’ safety. There’s plenty of blame to go around for what ails Detroit schools: parents, teachers, corruption, administrators, students. A lot of tough choices have been made and are to come. But while we’re busy pointing fingers, at least let the kids have a chance for a good education.

4. Underwater without a paddle

cleveland homes

Here's what happens to empty homes in Cleveland

According to this story, 2011 will mark a record for home foreclosures. In 2010 in America, 3.8 million homes went into foreclosure. And to think we were all led to believe our home was the best investment we would ever make. Underwater has become a household term, for those who still have houses. A trusted source tells me your perspective will change if you find yourself underwater. I am still stunned when I see how much value my home has now, compared with the price I paid, and compared with its peak value not so many years ago. I’m fortunate that most every house in my sub is now occupied, even though that wasn’t always the case.

Macomb County’s economic guru Jim Jacobs predicts the southeast Michigan economy is rebounding and will finish the year strong. He does caution that one of the “wild cards” will be the number of foreclosed and “underwater” home mortgages. This is a crisis that has put some houses on the dollar menu, and made those Washington Township mansions affordable for anyone lucky enough to be in house-hunting mode. What struck me the most was something I noticed when I did my taxes this year. The silver lining in a home that is valued at far less than when purchased is the owner pays less in taxes. But when I look at how much less I’m paying to my township and multiply that by every other home, it’s no wonder municipalities can’t balance their budgets.

5. Shameful

All I can say is, help catch these guys. A Sikh gurdwara under construction in Sterling Heights was spray painted by vandals sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning. If you have any information, call police (586) 466-2801 or Crime Stoppers (800) 773-2587. “We are absolutely sick at what some bad people did to our temple,” said Gurnam Dhamrat, secretary of the management committee of the Sikh Society of Michigan congregation. “You just shake your head in amazement because we are peace-loving people who love America, our home.”

“Vandalism of property should never be tolerated by anyone especially when thoughtless people vandalize a church, temple or synagogue,” Church member Inder Singh said..