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Historic Michigan barn gets new lease on life

A restored barn owned by Robert Garvey stands Tuesday, April 10, 2012 in Acme Township, Mich.
A restored barn owned by Robert Garvey stands Tuesday, April 10, 2012 in Acme Township, Mich.
Traverse City Record-Eagle, Keith King, Associated Press

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A deal between two antagonists in Acme Township's long-running Meijer store battle marked the first sizeable step to move historic Hoxsie House to a development site.

Part-time Acme resident and attorney Bob Garvey obtained a historic barn from a developer whose pending project includes a Meijer store. Garvey then donated $3,500 toward the Hoxsie House move at the direction of the barn's previous owner, Village at Grand Traverse LLC principal Steve Smith.

Garvey was among local attorneys who represented Acme officials who in 2009 won malicious prosecution lawsuit settlements totaling $2.2 million from VGT and Meijer Inc.

At the time, Garvey just happened to be looking for a historic barn for his Acme property.

Garvey and Smith were in a lawyer's office to sign settlement documents when Garvey popped the question.

"I asked him if he owned the barn and if it had hand-hewn beams," Garvey said. "It was kind of a weird thing ... but the case settled, it was over and he had a barn I wanted, so I asked him about it."

"Then I went upstairs and told my clients about it," Garvey said.

The barn was built in the 1890s by the Lautner family and was owned and maintained by the Andres families until they sold the property to VGT. The barn sat where the new Meijer store will go.

Smith called Garvey a few days after the first conversation to confirm the beams were hand-hewn, and invited him to take a look.

Smith said he originally planned to move and preserve the barn on the VGT property, but the project dragged on so long he worried about his ability to store and preserve it until a new site was ready.

Garvey met Smith at the barn and immediately offered to buy it.

Smith liked Garvey's plans to move and restore the structure and offered it to him at no cost.

"That's who I am," Smith said. "I don't hold grudges."

Documents obtained through the lawsuits identified Meijer — not Smith — as the primary culprit behind election tampering and harassment of township officials that led to the lawsuits, Garvey said.

"For me, it was done," he said.

But Garvey wasn't comfortable accepting a free barn. He and Smith then agreed Garvey would donate $3,500 — the barn's estimated value — to a cause of Smith's choosing for the value of the barn.

Smith asked Garvey to direct the donation to help relocate Acme founder Leonard Hoxsie's 1875 home to Smith's development site.

"I thought it would be a family in need or something like that, but when the Hoxsie House came along it was a perfect opportunity to preserve the area's heritage," Smith said. "Just like I wanted to do with the barn."

Dismantling, reassembling and restoring the barn proved an expensive proposition, Garvey said. Client fees he collected in the Meijer/VGT lawsuit effectively paid for the bulk of barn restoration.

"He did a fantastic job restoring that barn. It's just beautiful," Smith said.

The Michigan Barn Preservation Network recently named Garvey's restored structure the Barn of the Year in the Family/Private Adaptive Use category.

Garvey held a party last year for everyone who worked on the barn. Garvey also invited township officials, clients from the lawsuit, and Smith.

"He was definitely the only developer there, and I give him credit for showing up," Garvey said. "Now people are starting to call it the 'peace barn.'"

Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle,