Downtown Farmington 1890s barn free to willing mover

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published February 6, 2018

 The 1890s barn is located at 32905 Grand River Ave. in downtown Farmington.

The 1890s barn is located at 32905 Grand River Ave. in downtown Farmington.

Photo provided by City Councilwoman Maria Taylor

 The barn could be disassembled to be moved.

The barn could be disassembled to be moved.

Photo provided by City Councilwoman Maria Taylor

FARMINGTON — An 1890s barn located at 32905 Grand River Ave. in downtown Farmington is causing a small stir in the community and beyond. 

Its owner is giving it away. 

The barn — situated about a minute away from TJ Maxx — is free to anyone who can move it and give it a new home.

The barn stands about 30 feet tall, with an extra one-story addition, on a parcel behind a house slated to be demolished. The house also dates back to 1890. The house will make way for a restaurant, Samurai Steakhouse, to open up in the city. 

Michael Kemsley, a broker for the Plymouth-based Main St. Realtors, and his business partner Joseph Hess, an attorney at the Grand Rapids-based Barnes and Thornburg LLC, created K and H Consulting LLC. That entity is representing Samurai Steakhouse in a joint venture to redevelop the two parcels containing the barn and the house, Kemsley confirmed recently via email.  

Samurai Steakhouse owner En Xie also owns a restaurant of the same name in West Bloomfield. 

If no one decides to move the barn by March, it will be demolished. The barn is not located in the city’s historic district, and it does not have a historic district designation as protection from redevelopment.

Kate Knight, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority, said in an email that the city will not move the barn, but if it were in the historic district, it would have more consideration for protection.  

“Farmington values its historic integrity and carefully evaluates older building stock to determine with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office whether a property is historically significant and contributing,” Knight said. “The barn and house in question are not contributing.”

Kemsley said that his group of investors decided to donate the barn as is.

“The owners make no representations or warranties regarding the current condition of the barn/structure and make no representations or warranties regarding the condition of the barn/structure when relocated,” Kemsley said in the email. “Our legal counsel will provide an agreement to this effect that an interested party must sign.”

Kemsley added that the Livonia-based Grand Horizon Contracting will provide the relocation services.

“They are (a) contractor experienced with this type of project,” he said, adding that the cost of relocating the barn is on the interested party and would be based on where they move it.

City Councilwoman Maria Taylor, co-founder of Preservation Farmington, posted about the barn on the group’s Facebook page Jan. 26, which she said resulted in 8,000 views and 600 shares and responses; some three dozen individuals, including one 150 miles away, have expressed major interest.

Taylor’s post states that the property where the barn is located was recently sold, and both the barn and the house will be demolished unless the barn is moved.  

“The barn is in really solid condition. It’s a cool building: two stories, high ceiling, three horse stalls (each with its own window), original grain chute. While it’s bigger than a shed, it’s not as big as some barns are, which will make it easier to move,” she said in the post.

Michigan Barn Preservation Network Vice President Steve Stier has another opinion. 

Stier said that moving the barn might be tricky because the barn is not a timber-frame barn, which he said are the easiest to move because they are fastened together with wooden pegs.

“This is a plank-frame barn,” which Stier said “presents problems” because it is harder to dismantle. “It is fastened together with nails.”

He said the interested mover could possibly move the barn in sections on a flatbed trailer — otherwise, the 30-foot-tall barn would be cutting across wires in the city during the move. 

“The biggest cost is moving the (telephone) wires and (power lines),” he said of the roughly 14-foot lines that crisscross the city. 

He said his group, which has 200-some volunteers across the state, is interested in seeing the barn moved. 

“Getting the barn moved and adopted by a new owner — that is our highest priority,” he said, adding that he’d like to see it used as a barn too.

Stier estimated that the barn is worth about $50,000.

“It’s gotten a lot of publicity. We’re happy with that; it’s just a tough situation,” Stier said. “If you only had to move it a short distance and not go under wires, it could be moved in once piece; that is not the case there.”

Taylor said in a follow-up phone call that the old barn has a lot of character and could be used as a party barn, a working barn or even a “fun little house.”

“I had someone ask if you could make it into a house. … It’s certainly big enough,” she said.

Taylor added that she is excited that there is a chance to save the barn, and that it is disappointing to see old buildings torn down for parking.

“It seems like a lot of other people in the area are too,” she said.

Taylor said the possible demolition of the barn and the future demolition of the home demonstrate a “pressing need for” policy conversation on the city’s answers to requests for more parking lots.

“Especially private lots and especially when a piece of our city’s heritage is to be lost in the process,” she said. 

Taylor said that people in the preservation field call the barn and house “heritage” buildings because even if they are not designated as historic, they still add to the city’s historic nature and are key to the city’s brand.

Knight, also keen on maintaining the city’s historic ambiance, said that the community reaction has been strongly supportive of getting the word out.

“The preservation community is working hard to facilitate the daunting project of moving the barn structure within a small window of time, before the site is redeveloped,” Knight said, adding that the developer does not have to do anything toward that end. “The development team is community-minded in making the offer to let an interested party come in and take the barn. It’s a matter of timing and funding.” 

She added that while the barn’s market worth has not been established, it is likely less than the cost to move it.

For more information, email preservationfarmington@gmail.com.