AN EYESORE COMES DOWN… The four apartment buildings located at 7746 Red Arrow Highway in Watervliet Township are in the process of being demolished by Specialized Demolition Inc. Here, the ruins of one of the buildings is visible as the last standing building, which can be seen from Red Arrow Highway, awaits a similar fate. Visible on the lone standing building is the remnants of a Thanksgiving Day fire that was ruled arson. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)
“Thank God they’re finally coming down!”
Demolition of blighted apartments on Red Arrow underway….once were home to many families for 40 years
By Kristy Noack
Sunshine Villa Apartments, Park Lane Apartments, Cottage Grove Apartments; regardless of what they were called, four apartment buildings constructed at 7746 Red Arrow Highway in Watervliet township provided housing for local residents for over 40 years.
Those apartment buildings have been a part of the community for decades. The address often appeared in the pages of the Watervliet Courier and Tri-City Record within an item announcing the birth of new babies, the site of a kitchen fire, or the location of a request for tax breaks.
The apartments themselves will make the news one final time, as demolition of the property begins to conclude in the next week.
Built in 1975, the two-parcel site on Red Arrow Highway featured four apartment buildings and one office building. In the early 1990s, the property was owned by Dr. Gideon and Corazon Medina and called the Sunshine Villa Apartments.
In the late 1990s, according to the Berrien County Register of Deeds office, the parcels changed hands and eventually were recorded, by way of a quit claim deed, under the name Paarlane LLC.
The housing units were renamed Park Lane Apartments and offered as subsidized housing in the mid-2000s. In 2011, Anchor Preservation bought the property for $5,000. Originally, a mortgage in 1996 showed a balance of $1,185,000 on the property.
Another business, Heron Cove Apartments LLC, owned by Larry Remke, acquired Park Lane Apartments in 2011. At that time, there were 75 housing units within the four buildings.
What ensued in the years following was a foreclosure and sheriff’s deed, resulting in the property being purchased from Heron Cove Apartments LLC by 7746 Red Arrow LLC in 2014.
In January of 2013, a new developer of the property, which was being called Cottage Grove Apartments, met with Watervliet Township board members to request a possible tax break on the housing complex. Preliminary plans given to the board indicated developers would improve the facilities with a $3 million investment.
April 2015 found the Watervliet Township board approving a new ordinance which created a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program for the site. However, that tax incentive program went unused as the property was condemned on April 2, 2015 and all remaining residents – of which there were few – were evicted. The buildings were boarded up in accordance with township requirements. Watervliet Township Zoning Administrator Bob Lohr oversaw the process.
Unpaid taxes from 2012, 2013 and 2014 allowed Berrien County to step in and secure the property. The Treasurer’s office foreclosed on the parcels in 2015.
At the time the County seized the property one parcel was assessed at $42,500, while the second parcel had an assessment of $193,300.
Both parcels were offered for sale as part of the Berrien County Treasurer’s Land Auction on July 20, 2016, with the stipulation that the apartment buildings would be demolished. The properties did not sell.
A second chance auction was held in September, with opening bids of $50 on all parcels, including the two lots at 7746 Red Arrow Highway.
Mike Noack, a general contractor who is also a Watervliet resident, supplied the winning bid for both parcels at the September auction. The properties were purchased for $1,250. (Full disclosure: Mike is the writer’s husband). Although the Noacks technically owned the property, the apartment buildings were off-limits until the units could be razed.
Specialized Demolition Inc. of Hamilton, Michigan was awarded the demolition contract. SDI has been in business since 2001 and is a licensed asbestos abatement contractor as well.
In addition to demolishing all four buildings, linoleum in the kitchen floors was found to contain asbestos. The flooring had to be removed safely and in accordance with laws enacted by the State of Michigan.
According to Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski, Specialized Demolition turned in the low bid of $250,000 for the project.
The demolition costs are paid by the County through its foreclosure fund. The program is funded in two ways. For every parcel in the foreclosure process, a fee of $225 is charged. Those fees are added to the foreclosure fund. Additionally, the fund is increased by the sale of foreclosed properties.
Regarding the sale of the property to the Noacks, Witkowski said, “I think the only positive (of the County having the property) was our Sheriff’s Department was able to get some practice in.” The Sheriff’s Department ran tactical drills at the property, which included training on entering and securing the apartments. “Our hope for the property,” Witkowski continued, “is that it becomes a solid tax base.”
Dan Hutchins, Watervliet Township Supervisor, was succinct when notified the demolition process had started. “Thank God (the buildings) are finally coming down.”
Even before being condemned by the township and foreclosed on by the County, the apartment buildings had long been the site of numerous fire and police calls as well as a haven for drugs and vandalism. “The two back buildings had been abandoned and since 2000 had not been inhabited,” Hutchins said.
Even on Thanksgiving Day of last year, someone started a fire on the second floor of one of the buildings. Watervliet Fire Department responded and put the blaze out.
“I can’t tell you how long this has been a blight issue,” said Hutchins. “There were drugs and all kinds of things that we don’t need to have in our community.”
Noack, who worked with the township and County officials, was able to retain the front office building. The east half of the building was previously constructed to accommodate storage units. Noack is currently building walls and replacing electrical conduit in that half of the building. He anticipates creating three separate office spaces in the west half of the building. Previously, the structure acted as the laundry facility, office and meeting space for the apartment complex.
SDI started and completed the teardown of the back, east side building on December 27. On December 30, the crew demolished the back building on the west side of the property, tucked behind the tree line. The third apartment building was torn down on January 10. The apartment building visible from Red Arrow Highway will soon meet a similar fate. Truckloads of debris have been and will continue to be removed from the site until the land is in “mow-able” condition.
Although the buildings provided homes for hundreds of families for many years, their disreputable condition and poor management necessitated their removal from the township. It is an unfortunate – but necessary – end to a place many once considered home.
Kaylee Ann Chapin crowned Miss Watervliet 2017; Two crowned Mr. Watervliet
By Annette Christie
Ten beautiful young ladies from the community of Watervliet were vying for the title but at the end of the “Backyard Barbeque” held in Watervliet Saturday night, it was Kaylee Ann Chapin who was selected to represent the community by winning the title of 2017 Miss Watervliet. Chapin, 18, told the audience following her crowning that she is looking forward to being a bigger part of this community and thanked her support system of family and her faith in the Lord.
2017 MISS WATERVLIET AND HER COURT… were crowned during the “Backyard Barbeque” themed Miss Watervliet Pageant held Saturday night at the Watervliet High School auditorium. Pictured (from the left): Second runner-up Mercede Daugherty, Miss Watervliet Kaylee Ann Chapin, First runner-up Katie Schultz and Miss Congeniality Maggie Lynch. (TCR photo by Annette Christie)
Chapin is the daughter of Allen and Ginnette Chapin. She is a senior attending Watervliet High School. In school, she is active in cheerleading, dance team, and is a member of the Quiz Bowl Team. She serves as the Class Co-President and the National Honor Society Vice President.
Her future plans include attending Western Michigan University to eventually become a physical therapist. She is involved with the Blue Roof Church outreach ministries and volunteers at Watervliet Hospital.
The final question asked of the top five finalists was “Is college for everyone, why or why not?” to which Chapin responded that she felt that college should be a possibility for everyone, but for those that come from poorer families, the current financial aid system does not always make that possible. She said she would like to see a change to the financial aid program to make it easier for everyone who wants to attend college.
The three words she chose to describe herself would be artistic, compassionate, and tenacious.
Katie Marie Schultz, 17, was selected as first runner-up. She is the daughter of Randy and Tina Schultz. Schultz is a senior attending Watervliet High School. She is involved in basketball, volleyball, and softball where she has received awards such as honorable mention and All-Conference. She has also received academic awards and certification in first aid, CPR, and as a CNA. She plans to attend Lake Michigan College to study nursing, followed by a four-year college. She plans to specialize in pediatrics.
Schultz spends her free time volunteering for youth sports camps, food drives, the Athletic Boosters concession stand, and at the Benton Harbor Soup Kitchen. The three words she used to describe herself were determined, confident, and independent.
Mercede Daugherty was named second runner-up. The 17 year-old senior attending Watervliet High School is the daughter of Roy and Edie Daugherty. She is involved in softball, dance team, yearbook, and volleyball. She is a member of the Leadership Council and the National Honor Society. This past fall she was named Homecoming Queen. She has received awards in athletics such as honorable mention, All Conference, All District, and All Region.
Her future plans include attending Trine University to pursue a degree in business and will play softball at the college level. She volunteers for youth sports camps.
Selected as Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants was Maggie Lynch; the 18-year-old senior attends Watervliet High School. She is the daughter of Greg and Trina Lynch. She is involved in Leadership Council, basketball, volleyball, dance team and serves as a student tutor.
Her future plans include attending college to study psychology. She plans to become a child psychologist. She volunteers at youth sports clinics, food drives, the Peer-to-Peer Group, and the Benton Harbor Soup Kitchen.
The remaining contestants included Nicole Trux, Kylie Taylor, Zoey Howard, Kacie Shaffer, Taylor Zehner, and Emily Fellows. Fellows and Lynch rounded out the top five. Daugherty won the title of Miss Entrepreneur for selling the most advertisements in the program.
The contest opened with an energetic dance number to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” with the contestants adorning their self-monogrammed BBQ aprons. The stage was decorated to reflect the theme “Backyard Barbeque” perfectly with a fire pit, a food table, and a backdrop featuring a relaxing backyard scene.
Emcees for the evening were Phil McDonald and Lindsay Zvonar. McDonald is sports director for Midwest Family Broadcasting. Zvonar is the Promotions Director for Midwest Family Broadcasting and serves as an afternoon radio personality on WYTZ 97.5.
Judges for the pageant were Maria Martino Mohen, Bob Ehrenberg, and Lynn Christiana.
The contest is sponsored by the Watervliet Pageant Organization.
Two young men were crowned as Co-Mr. Watervliet on Saturday and will go on to represent the community in the Mr. Blossomtime contest.
2017 CO-MR. WATERVLIET REPS… Brent Simmons (left) and Haydon Richards (right) received their banners and crowns at the Miss Watervliet Pageant held Saturday night. The two will be vying for the title of Mr. Blossomtime in March. (TCR photo by Annette Christie)
Haydon Richards, 18, is a senior attending Watervliet High School. He is the son of Eric and Natalkka Richards. He is a Panther athlete on the Track and Cross Country teams, receiving the award as most improved in Cross Country. Following high school, he plans to go to college to study welding or C-N-C machine operation.
Brent Simmons, 17, is a senior attending Watervliet High School and the Berrien County Math & Science Center. He is the son of Jack and Carla Simmons. He has received varsity letters in track, cross country, marching band, and academics. Simmons is also a member of the National Honor Society, Quiz Bowl Team, and Science Olympiad Team. Following high school, he plans to attend college to study medicine. He hopes to become a plastic surgeon.