July 02, 2014 - By Meg Peters
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Review Staff Writer
The Ehman Center has new owners, four born 'n raised Lake Orionites to be exact.
Forming Legacy Partners with the purchase, Kellie McDonald, Christian Mills, Todd Garris and Scott Garretson paid $45,000 for the building, pouncing on it after it was foreclosed on April 1, 2014.
Originally the Ehman Center—also known as the Angel Center—was forfeited to the Oakland County Treasury Department March 31, 2013 after taxes went unpaid for two years.
The 25-classroom building is known for its historical grace and novelty as the first Lake Orion kindergarten-through-12 grade school built in 1927, which the district outgrew decades later.
The owners met through the Lake Orion/Orion Township business circle, and developed an idea Garris says is fit for the market.
"We've been looking at this school for three years and many other assets downtown and got fixated on it because of its historical value," he said. "And of course, every one of us being from Lake Orion, we were like this would be so cool."
Think 800 to 1,000 square feet lofts on the second and third story in the old classrooms. A couple of boutique shops in the basement basking in large sun-filled rooms. An edgy restaurant filling the high ceilings of the gymnasium with laughter and delicious scents, and voila, a rough plan for Legacy Partner's newest purchase.
"The gym to me is the pinnacle of this whole building," Garris continued.
The restaurant is only an idea, however, and the partners are seeking community input. Go to www.LegacyLO.com to contact any of the new owners with ideas or suggestions.
"We don't know exactly, but we do know that it's prime, it's beautiful. It's so different and everything is moving to this urban style and architecture," he said. "Our biggest fear was we didn't want any more dilapidated or empty buildings sitting in our town."
Garris and Garretson have been friends for a long time.
Garretson recently moved his business Brilliant Chemistry, specializing in web development, advertising and technology for start-up businesses, from Royal Oak to Lake Orion.
"With my background we are trying to bring more technology innovation to this historic building. We are looking at things like smart lofts as a more efficient type of housing to bring the old with some of the new technology," he said.
Over the past few years Garretson met Mills through Garris.
Mills owns the Village Shoppes buildings downtown and Quantum Dynamic Manufacturing Solutions on Indianwood Rd., known for manufacturing medical equipment and more recently for hosting the Orion Township emergency clean up teams after the massive straight-line wind storm in April.
Mills said Legacy Partners would need to acquire a planned unit development (PUD) in order to mesh the residentially zoned building with commercial businesses.
"I was on these very steps. I had a locker upstairs. Actually it was a changing point in my life coming to Lake Orion. I have a lot of positive memories," he said, having attended both fifth and sixth grades at the center when the building was known as the Elizabeth Street Elementary School.
Eventually everybody met McDonald, who is a board member of the Orion Area Chamber of Commerce.
McDonald owns and operates the Goddard School early childhood development center on Silverbell Rd., and like everybody else, wants to protect the Ehman Center.
"It's a landmark building that we felt was really important to save," she said.
When a property is foreclosed, the State of Michigan has the first right of refusal to acquire the parcel, then the local city or town, and then the third option is public auction, Downtown Development Authority Director Suzanne Perreault said.
After the property was foreclosed the Michigan Land Bank purchased it and subsequently sold it to Legacy Partners. Perrault along with Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner worked with Legacy Partners in their purchase.
"If it just goes to auction then anybody can buy it, and although a lot of people may have a dream they may not have a sustainable plan and potentially nothing could happen," she said.
Perrault said she is very supportive of Legacy Partners developing the building.
"They are from Lake Orion. They have this passion for our community. They want to see something happen with this old school, and they all have experience owning properties and businesses."
Before the building was foreclosed it was locally owned and used by multiple organizations.
Wendy Patton purchased the building in 2001 for $100,000 from Lake Orion schools with the goal of renovating it and turning it into office space. She was thwarted when she couldn't receive permission for proper zoning from the village, according to a Lake Orion Review article from November 15, 2006.
It housed the Lake Orion Boys and Girls Club, a Christian School, and Love INC's furniture store and clothing ministry while she tried to rezone it. Then she tried to donate it to a local charitable organization.
Finally it was auctioned off to Deborah Moceri for $52,500 September 30, 2008.
Perreault is working with Legacy Partners to schedule a community input session to gather local ideas for the historic building. Read The Review for more information about the community input session.