A view from above of the former Vassar foundry site that could soon belong to Tuscola County. (Photo by Zac Deering)

Judge stops foreclosure on former Vassar foundry

The vacant Vassar foundry property could be the site of a $13 million plant that would bring 10 full-time jobs, said Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. officials. The water tower with the large “G” on it is a symbol from when the property was owned by Grede Foundries Inc. from 1986 until it was sold in 2009. (File photo)

A last-minute effort by Tuscola County officials to stop their own foreclosure on the former Vassar foundry building and property proved successful Monday.
Tuscola County Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart reversed a Feb. 6 foreclosure judgment that would have made the former Vassar foundry property of Tuscola County March 31 due to unpaid taxes.
Because the order was not final until March 31, however, the court had the ability to modify the Feb. 6 judgment.
Attorneys for Tuscola County Treasurer Patricia Donovan-Gray and Tuscola County both made the case for reversing the judgment. Essentially, they told Gierhart that Donovan-Gray made a mistake, and did not realize that the county could end up on the hook for cleanup costs at the former Vassar foundry site.
“Immediately upon discovering that these parcels did not come within the environmental immunity and because she did not want to modify a judgment of this court without permission, the treasurer filed the motion now before the court,” said Peter Goodstein, attorney for Donovan-Gray.
Goodstein cited state law that “allows a party to be relieved from a judgment in case of mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.”
“In this case, it was clearly a mistake,” Goodstein told the court.
“If the three parcels are removed from the foreclosure list, no one will be injured,” Goodstein said. “If the three parcels are not removed from the list and the treasurer becomes the owners, the treasurer will assume responsibility for the remediation.
“That undertaking will impact the tax revolving fund, which will impact Vassar and ultimately the county general fund,” he said.
The Metavation L.L.C. foundry — known in decades past as the Eaton Manufacturing foundry — shut down in 2013. Metavation’s parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy that year, abandoning the foundry parcel that has a for-sale sign in front of it advising would-be buyers to contact Troy-based real estate agency L. Mason Capitani Inc. The property is listed for $750,000.
Those familiar with the property likely recognize the building — east of downtown Vassar along East Huron Avenue — by the water tower with the big “G” on it from when it was owned by Milwaukee-based Grede Foundries Inc. from 1986 until it was sold in 2009.
However, there are another 44 acres beyond the 257,000 square feet of factory space (10,000 square feet of office space). A railroad spur separates the land with the buildings and the vacant acreage.
Officials have said benefits of the site include the railroad access, which allows for loading and unloading large amounts of material for transport via train, and relatively close proximity to north and south I-75.
The county began foreclosure proceedings on the property that consists of three parcels in early 2017 because taxes haven’t been paid on the property for the last three years.
Typically, forfeited properties are sold via auction, with a starting bid set at the amount of money owed on the taxes (at total of about $120,000 in this case).
However, the county could have been responsible for remediation of the property through the federal Resource Recovery and Conservation Act, a fact Goodstein said Donovan-Gray “was not aware of” when foreclosure proceedings began.
“If the parcels are not removed from the foreclosure list, the owners of the parcels will incur no pain but local and county government will be impacted to a degree which cannot currently be calculated,” Goodstein said in court.
Officials are working to determine the extent of contamination at the site of heavy industrial operations for decades.
Steve Erickson, executive director, Tuscola County Economic Development Corp., did not return a phone call to The Advertiser Tuesday.
However, he has said three days of testing took place around March 8. Costs of about $5,000 were split between the city of Vassar and Tuscola County.
Erickson also has said both the potential buyer and the foreclosure process have accelerated efforts to determine the site’s level of contamination, stating that “When it comes to possible purchasers, time is money.”
As The Advertiser reported Jan. 28, Erickson told the county board that week that an out-of-state company is eyeing the site for a $13 million plant.
Erickson has said that one company already has backed out of pursuing the property due to too many unknowns with regard to contamination.
Knowing contamination levels is important because remediation costs will be a factor for whomever ultimately develops the property.
Monday’s hearing in front of Gierhart took about 10 minutes.
Gierhart’s order to reverse the judgment of foreclosure was brief and to the point, citing the order “for the reasons set forth on the record.”
Despite an end to the current foreclosure process, Brian Chapman, city manager, Vassar, said fostering redevelopment of the former Vassar foundry site remains a priority.
“It doesn’t necessarily stop or slow any work or effort we want to put into developing the property,” he said. “Regardless of who controls the property, we still have to figure out a plan for it.”
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

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