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Traverse City agrees to sell building to Safe Harbor for $50,000

Safe Harbor of Grand Traverse

The Safe Harbor homeless shelter in Traverse City will have a permanent home. Monday night, the city commission agreed to sell an unused city building on Wellington Street to Safe Harbor for $50,000.

The deal says the building must be a functioning shelter by 2018. After 10 years of operation, Safe Harbor would own the property outright.

Safe Harbor Board Chairman Peter Starkel said his group is ready for the next step.

“We have a 35-page funding strategy (that) starts tomorrow morning, if this goes through,” said Starkel before the vote. “We have no doubt that we’ll be able to raise the funds to convert the shelter, initially into a 65-bed shelter with an overflow capacity.”

Safe Harbor will also have to deal with the building’s problems, including broken water lines and mold damage.

City Manager Marty Colburn says an appraisal conducted in 2014 estimated the property’s value at $465,000. Colburn says the property’s value is mitigated by its close proximity to the city’s water treatment plant on the north shore of Boardman Lake.

The end of a lengthy, contentious debate

The vote came after two years of debate over the issue.

Commissioner Ross Richardson cast the only “no” vote. Richardson expressed concern that the discussion had quickly turned from the possibility of leasing the building to Safe Harbor into an outright sale.

“Why don’t we sit down and have a discussion about what is the best thing we can do with this land?” asked Richardson. “I still think this is set up to fail. I think they will have a very difficult time meeting the financial requirements.”

Several people testified before the commission, mostly in favor of the deal.

Timothy Gray said he moved to Traverse City from Flint. He compared discussions over the financial aspects of the shelter deal to governmental decisions that led to the Flint water crisis.

“They treated human beings as a line item and the decisions they made were based on a cost estimate,” said Gray. “And while tonight we are debating the value of an empty building … there are people sitting in ditches and under trees, trying to survive.”

Commissioner Richard Lewis agreed the move is about human compassion.

“I think it’s a step forward in taking care of our fellow man,” said Lewis. “And if we, as a government, can’t think about that, we have bigger problems, folks. We have a lot bigger problems.”

Before the vote, commissioners inserted a clause into the deal that allows part of the property to be used for a future housing project, if such a proposal comes along in the next 10 years.