March 05, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Ten years ago on March 4, 2004 boiling chicken water mixed with some grease and ignited a fire in the Sagebrush Cantina kitchen that forever changed the face of downtown Lake Orion.
From there flames traveled up vent fans into the ceiling. Because surrounding businesses at that time shared common ceilings, it was easy for the flames to continue growing.
The flames traveled down the walls, burning up neighboring businesses; Kimberly Travel, Oldies Ice Cream, and Coldwell Banker Shooltz Realty. Allstate Insurance, and Broadway Records were severely damaged.
Kimberly Travel and Oldies Ice Cream were never rebuilt.
"I'm having flashbacks right now. I just remember coming into work that day and I could see the plume of smoke up in the air. I just remember thinking, 'wow, I hope that's not my store that's burning,'" Richard McGlashen, owner of Broadway Records, said.
The fire stopped at his south wall, but water and heat damage nearly ruined the building. He ended up moving to his current location on Shadbolt.
Around 20,000 records were lost that day. But the community couldn't let that stand.
"People were bringing in boxes of records and Wireless Toyz stored them at their place for me, at least 10-12 boxes," McGlashen said, after Wireless Toyz placed an ad telling about the fire and seeking help.
"That was my starting inventory when I started all over again because most of my stock was destroyed," he said.
Steve Auger, owner of SA+A Architects, and chairmen of the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority at that time, said he remembers the bursts of heat of each liquor bottle exploding across from his own office building.
The police initially allowed him to remove computers and servers out of his architecture business until they eventually forced him from the building for his safety.
"The next day remarkably we were back to work as usual with the slight smell of smoke in the air," Auger said. He was also an architect that helped in the rebuilding of the downtown.
"I was also pleasantly surprised to see how the Planning Commission stepped up to the plate and allowed the new Sagebrush to grow into an appropriate footprint as a seed for the next series of developments that hopefully find a home in the downtown district," Auger said.
Current director of the DDA, Suzanne Perrault said 33 fašade grants have been given to downtown businesses since the Sagebrush fire.
"If you look at some of the before and after photos after the fire, people are continuing to invest in their buildings," Perreault said.
The DDA has also invested public money for the downtown streetscape and parking improvements
"I think that that point, which was truly devastating for the downtown to go through, it served as a spring board for the downtown," Perrault said. "You had property owners that chose to rebuild here, increasing the amount of customers downtown and the tax base.
"The scale of (Dia Zaraga's) property fits in very nicely with the rest of the downtown, and I think it really was a great investment in the community," Perreault said.