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Flint's Tallest One Step Closer to Demolition

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City wants study of Towers' integrity


Thursday, February 12, 2004

By Christofer Machniak



About Genesee Towers

Completed in 1968, the 19-story structure includes 172,000 square feet of office space and a parking garage. When completed, it was the state's tallest building outside Detroit.


Flint - Genesee County's tallest building could be one step closer to destruction.

Emergency financial manager Ed Kurtz authorized paying up to $40,000 to hire a Kalamazoo structural engineering company to examine the parking garage of Genesee Towers, 120 E. First St.

Some say the study could give the city enough evidence to condemn the 19-story building. City officials say the study helps them defend a lawsuit by V. Kumar and Sasikala Vemulapalli, the building's owners, who allege discrimination and a city conspiracy to take control of it.

Attorney Barry Wolf, defending the city against the lawsuit, said the city wants the study to determine whether the parking structure was properly repaired. The city first cited V. Kumar Vemulapalli in 2001 for several building code violations, including problems with the parking structure. Wolf also said Vemulapalli's lawsuit has no merit.

"The city has no idea whether the work was done properly," Wolf said.

But Vemulapalli said a structural engineer already has found the building to be safe.

"We want to open the building," he said. "They're playing games. They don't want me to open the building."

A remaining violation over problems with the building's exterior keeps Vemulapalli from leasing office space. Currently, the building's only occupants are Vemulapalli and an assistant who have to supply their own heat.

Vemulapalli said he hopes to fix the exterior later this year. A court date on the violation is set for next month, he said. The other violations have been dismissed, court records show.

The exterior worries 7th Ward Councilman Matt Schlinker, who represents the area. He said he's seen chunks of concrete from the facade on the sidewalk.

"What I see when I stand down there looking at this building scares me," Schlinker said. "The city administration cannot ignore a potential public health hazard like that."

But Second Ward Councilman Ed Taylor accused Kurtz and downtown business interests, including the Mott Foundation, of trying to run Vemulapalli out of town. He wondered why the city wasn't going after other apparent problem buildings in the downtown area, such as the Durant Hotel and Clark School.

"It's a waste of money by the city," Taylor said. "They are targeting and redlining Kumar. Anything that they can do to take this building from this man, that's what they're going to do. "

A spokeswoman with the Mott Foundation, which owns and is headquartered in the building next door, did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

Kurtz, who approved hiring Carl Walker Inc., the structural engineering firm, said the city is performing its duty to get the building fixed or razed. An appraisal hasn't been done yet.

"I certainly don't think that great big building in downtown Flint sitting empty is contributing to the development of downtown," Kurtz said.

The Vemulapallis filed their lawsuit suit early last year, one of two now pending in county circuit court before Judge Geoffrey L. Neithercut. A hearing over whether to dismiss the case is scheduled in March and a possible trial in May.

The second lawsuit is over the city's refusal to grant a state Renaissance Zone designation that would exempt state and local taxes. The couple received the designation before, but the city claims they are ineligible, saying they own property in Flint with back taxes.

The Vemulapallis counter they gave the properties away years ago to local nonprofits. Without the designation, the couple owes more than $183,000 in taxes in 2003. A similar amount is owed from 2002.

The property is worth $7.2 million, according to the city's records. The couple purchased it at an auction in 1997 for $500,000. Vemulapalli said he's since put $3 million to $4 million in repairs.


Christofer Machniak covers Flint city government. He can be reached at (810) 766-6304 or [email protected]

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