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Racine Baseball CooperativeThe City of Racine has ordered the Racine Baseball Cooperative to vacate the third floor of 820 Water Street by Feb. 9 because the roof has started to collapse.

Owned by Rodney Blackwell, FDP MR LLC, the building is part of the Machinery Row Project. City officials are concerned that part of the roof has started to give way and could have “a domino effect throughout the entire roof system,” according to an email by Ken Plaski, chief building inspector with the City of Racine.

“There are also portions of the roof structure that have deteriorated to a point that only the roof membrane is in place to hold back the exterior elements,” Plaski wrote in the email.

But board members at RBC feel like the city is forcing them out unnecessarily.

Sections Of Roof Collapsing

On Friday, Plaski ordered RBC to vacate the third floor of the building by Thursday. But officials with RBC said they have had the roof inspected and the portion of the building they use is structurally sound. Still, Plaski and city officials say there’s too much of a risk to have people on the third floor and that the roof could collapse.

“Additionally, the roof substructure has extreme water damage, and it is not feasible to ascertain the safety of this roof system,” he wrote. “It is for the safety of those people accessing the third floor that the entire building has been placarded, and that the use of the building is no longer allowed.”

Jack Schiestle, trustee and head coach of the Racine Baseball Cooperative, said he helped start the organization 25 years ago with Brian Jensen, who later died in a car crash. They have been located at 820 Water Street for 18 years. And the city ordering them to vacate has caused “panic to set in.”

“They need to leave us alone,” Schiestle said. “They are trying to tell us that the building is not structurally sound and we’ve had people go through it and we find out that that’s not true. Granted, in one area they’ve had a couple of boards fall down, but we’re two football fields away from where that happened.

“We would never jeopardize anyone’s safety if we thought there was a problem… it’s  just a wonderful place to go to.”

Several area schools use the facility to train in year round, but now a number of them have decided to stop using it.

Machinery Row Buildings In Default

The 820 Water Street building is next to 900 Water Street, which has already started to collapse. Blackwell owns both buildings, which is a sensitive topic for the city because FDP MR LLC defaulted on a bridge loan the city gave to him.

In December, Blackwell received a notice of default on the development agreement. He still has a right to cure the default from the city, but he has until March 31 to bring in another developer with financing. If that doesn’t happen, the city will own the property.

“It will be out of Rodney’s hands after the right to cure period is over. Rodney will walk away with no money. Everyone thinks we gave Rodney $4.5 million. We didn’t,” said Mayor John Dickert in December.

Dan Nicholson, the commissioner for RBC, said he met with an inspector from the city on Monday.

“They thought we were using another part of the building, but the kids can’t go out of our area,” Nicholson said. “He also looked at the roof on our area and he said that it looked fine. But we gotta convince the legal guys (of that) because that’s where it’s at, I guess.”

But Schiestle said he believes Blackwell and the city know that another developer may be interested in the property.

“We can accommodate good things, if only we had a chance,” Schiestle said.

He also doesn’t understand why the city wants RBC out of the facility so quickly.

“They gave Riverside Inn 60 days, but we get five days,” Schiestle said.

City Maintains Order Is In Place To Protect

Tom Friedel, city administrator, said that RBC officials were told when FDP Properties purchased the building in 2014 that they would need to find another facility because of the impending development.

“Now we’re coming into 2017 and they no longer have a rental agreement since Feb. 1 with FDP Properties,” he said.

But now that the city has been able to get inside the building to inspect the property and they know of some of these structural issues, it has a responsibility to safeguard the people who use it, Friedel said.

“This caught the city off guard too,” he said. “No one told us either about this and it’s news to the city that the building is in disrepair. Now maybe it just happened with the whether we have had. But we thought Blackwell was taking good care of it.”

Still, Friedel understands that it’s not convenient for the board to move out so suddenly.

If the city does end up acquiring the property, staff have already starting working on getting estimates on fixing the roof.

“Remember we do not own this building,” Friedel said. “We hold the mortgage. We may need to take an action to protect the city’s mortgage interest, if the owner does not make repairs.”  

At this point Schiestle, a number of the RBC board members, parents and their children are expected to attend the Common Council meeting on Tuesday to voice their concerns.

“The city looks like they’ve lost millions of dollars and all of a sudden they are saying, ‘We’ve got to get these people out of there,'” Schiestle said. “Well… we’re not hurting anybody, we’ve been here for years.”

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.