Q&A: Stewart Beal on the future of Ypsilanti's Thompson Block

The road to redevelopment for the Thompson Block has been both long and winding, to put it nicely. But its developer is willing to shed a little light on what's ahead and why it's worth the journey.

Stewart Beal wants to turn the historic building on the eastern edge of Ypsilanti's Depot Town into a combination of lofts and commercial space. He was well on his way to doing so before the financial crisis and then a fire hit the development. But Beal remains unfazed, and continues working to make the project a reality.

He recently put forward plans to finish stabilizing the building and remove the supports from the sidewalk and street within the next year.

Full disclosure: This writer has argued
on MarkMaynard.com to give Beal a fair shot at redeveloping the site after the fire.

Here is Beal's argument for why the
Thompson Block project remains viable. He answered the questions via email.

It was pretty difficult making this project work before the fire, please explain why this project is still feasible after the fire?

It was actually very easy to make this project work before the fire. What stopped us in our tracks was the financial crisis, particularly the crisis in commercial real estate lending. The project always worked financially until the fire and we had a good loan offer until Citizens Bank purchased Republic Bank and then closed the Republic Bank real estate lending department. Currently not a single bank in the Midwest, that I am aware of, is providing construction financing of this type.
This project will only become feasible with a massive infusion of equity and debt. I am pursuing both.

There are a lot of people who believe the city should just knock down the Thompson Block and move on. You are clearly not one of them. What would it mean for Ypsilanti if this project came to fruition?

Let me be clear: There are not a lot of people who believe the city should just knock down the Thompson Block and move on. The vast majority of the business people, the decision makers in the City of Ypsilanti, and the people who come to the city council meetings to express their views, want to see the building saved. There continues to be a lot of people who are extremely supportive of my efforts to develop the building before and after the fire and I am extremely grateful for that support.
I would recommend that you ask others what it would mean for Ypsilanti if this project came to fruition because I wouldn’t like to presume. But I know it would be the greatest accomplishment in my life to date. I live in the area and spend a lot of time in Depot Town so it is important for both personal and business reasons.
Most developers would walk away from a project like this after the fire. Why are you determined to move forward?

I finish what I start, no matter how difficult or costly.

If the Thompson Block falls, what are the chances something will be built on the site any time in the next decade? 

The answer to this question depends completely on the Michigan economy, and the health of the Michigan commercial real estate market. I wish I could predict the future and answer this question. In my opinion it will be 7 to 10 years before a new building could be built on the site.

Describe what it's like to get financing for this project?

Obtain financing for this project continues to be a frustrating experience. I work on this on a daily basis.

In a sentence or two, sum up the argument for going forward with this project?

The Thompson Block is one of the most historic buildings in the State of Michigan and is extremely important to Ypsilanti's history. The City of Ypsilanti was founded over 100 years ago and it will be here 100 years from now. I would strongly urge the community to think long term and work to preserve history, on every building in Ypsilanti, no matter how difficult or temporarily inconvenient.

Source: Stewart Beal, developer of the Thompson Block
Writer: Jon Zemke