Reality needs to guide decisions on Belding clock tower

By Darrin Clark • Last Updated 6:01 pm on Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Caryn Klebba

Most of us have sentimental attachments to things we grew up with. For some, it’s a cherished book, a doll, our first bicycle, or a family photograph. For many of the people of Belding there is a strong sentimental attachment to the clock tower that is a part of the Gibson property.
The connection is understandable. The clock tower is the tallest structure in the town since it was built in 1903, and, even though the Gibson factory closed in 1988, the tower has remained a visible reminder of Belding’s industrial past.
The situation is, in some ways, similar to one involving another Michigan industrial structure: the “MSC” smokestack that has been a landmark on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing since it was built in 1948.
Earlier this year, after inspections revealed that the smokestack was in perilous condition, MSU decided that it had to demolish the structure. The MSC letters that are near the top of the smokestack will be removed and saved for posterity.
The owner of the Belding clock tower, Electrolux Home Products, Inc. has reached the same conclusion about the buildings on the Gibson property. The property was condemned by the city in 2008, when it was still owned by an individual who had purchased it in 1991 and never redeveloped it. Electrolux decided to repurchase the property last fall to oversee a demolition of the buildings in order to remove a significant threat to safety in the downtown Belding area.
In the months since the repurchase, the city has moved to block the demolition. Electrolux has offered proposals to preserve a portion of the clock tower and other items from the grounds to be displayed elsewhere in the city, but these good-faith offers have been rebuffed or ignored. Reluctantly, Electrolux has been forced to take its case to the courts at significant cost to all parties involved.
While the courts take their time reviewing the legal cases, the property situation continues to deteriorate. The structures are dangerously decayed, and they are getting worse with each passing day. Despite fences and other barriers erected to keep trespassers out, there is evidence of people routinely entering the property at great risk to themselves and others.
Electrolux has stated that it will not invest in any plan other than demolishing the buildings and preserving a portion of the clock tower. No other party has stepped forward with funding to do anything remotely viable.
Attempts to block demolition — such as the proposed inclusion of the property in a future designated historical district — are poorly conceived and not enforceable, and they are costing the city and taxpayers untold thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Belding’s best hope of maintaining its sentimental attachment to the clock tower is to accept the Electrolux offer of dismantling and preserving the top 40 feet of the clock tower for reconstruction in another location. Any other course of action by the city or other special-interest groups will delay the inevitable. It’s time to let reality guide the resolution of this controversy.

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