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Katherine Lymn, Forum News Service, Published September 23 2013

After fire, lawsuit delay project for years, historic Dickinson building set to open

DICKINSON, N.D. - Downtown Dickinson’s historic Elks Building is nearly complete after new investors and professionals joined the project to clean up the mess following years of delays and unpaid bills.

Granville “Beaver” Brinkman, who was hired by the city in 2004 to develop the building with ambitious renovation plans, is still involved but to a lesser extent as a minority owner among a handful of investors now financing the project.

Those involved with the project say they hope to get a certificate of occupancy within a month.

A top priority for investors now is paying construction liens and other bills from the project’s turbulent history that has led to multiple extensions from the city, lawsuits, tenants backing out, and an increasingly distrusting and impatient city.

Owners’ representative John Hunt said all the construction liens — which amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills to local contractors — have not been paid, but to his knowledge everyone owed money has been identified and contacted to begin the payment process.

“There’s no two ways about it,” Hunt said. “From a financing standpoint, it’s been a kind of difficult project.”

The sole confirmed tenant now is AE2S, an engineering firm currently working in the basement of the Advanced Vision Center building, said Deon Stockert, head of its Dickinson office.

Project representatives say local businesses and oil and gas companies have shown interest in the Elks Building.

Dickinson city Commissioner Shirley Dukart said the building has lost multiple tenants.

The entire second floor of the Elks Building was designed and built for the local Ebeltoft and Sickler law firm, but it backed out and pursued another space.

Paul Ebeltoft would not elaborate on why the firm backed out, only saying that it was concerned for the occupancy “long before” the decision was made in January.

Mayor Dennis Johnson and City Administrator Shawn Kessel did not mention the new ownership structure when asked about the building.

The building is still officially owned by Dickinson Elks LLC, of which Brinkman was once the only owner.

Now, the investors have injected “new money” into the company to finish the project, Hunt said.

He would not identify the investors.

“From day one, there was a structure and that structure evolved as money was needed,” he said.

“From an operational standpoint, Beaver’s role has changed a bit.”

Brinkman still visits the site, but he is no longer the project’s point person, and has less ownership than the other investors.

Numerous phone calls and messages left for Brinkman went unreturned.

With painted walls and carpeted floors, the Elks Building is ready for tenants who aren’t there.

After 100 years and a brutal fire, what remains of the original Elks Building design is limited to details like tile in the entryway and some brick walls.

All four floors will now be commercial office space, said Dave Maurer, the investors’ conduit on the ground charged with readying the building for inspections.

Relics of past plans remain, like storage units in the unfinished basement that were built for proposed condos, one of which Brinkman once said he planned to live in himself.

“Everything had a reason at one time,” Maurer said.

Stockert said he’s excited to move his office to such a historic part of downtown. He has waited two years to move into the building where he has fond memories of shopping with his mother and attending Elks events.

The building’s 1913 opening brought grand fanfare to town, with a parade, rodeo and street light decorations commemorating the beginning of many happy years for the structure.

From 1918 to 1924, the building was home to the first classes of what is now Dickinson State University.

According to the building’s successful application for national historic status, the Montgomery Ward department store occupied the building for four decades starting in 1928. It later housed stores for pets, jewelry, liquor and health food; offices for real estate, a tax service, Army recruiting and an insurance agency.

“It’d be part of our downtown development,” Dukart said, “if we could just get that up and running.”

The downtown Dickinson building known as the Elks Building was constructed in May 1911 by a Madison, Wis., architectural firm.

It held the first classes of what is now Dickinson State University and has been used in a variety of ways over the years, from being a dance hall, a department store, a jewelry store and, of course, the initial site for Elks Lodge No. 1137.

In the past 10 years, however, the building has been a seemingly neverending reclamation project. Here are some of the events that have brought the building to where it is now, a cornerstone of downtown that remains under construction and empty.

Timeline of events for the Elks Building

June 2004: The City of Dickinson receives a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate hazardous substances, like asbestos and black mold, from the building.

October 2004: City selects Granville “Beaver” Brinkman’s Careage Inc. to undertake the renovation and restoration of the Elks Building. Mayor Dennis Johnson tells The Dickinson Press, “As a commission, we have to focus on what is going to be best for downtown in the long term.”

October 2005: The Elks Building passes environmental testing. Brinkman says he believes renovations can be finished as early as 10 months from the start date of summer or fall of 2006.

April 2007: Brinkman says renovation should begin in May or June 2007, with completion within a year.

Oct. 15, 2007: Fire starts in basement and burns through parts of the first and second floors. Cause later determined to be a cutting torch. Brinkman says he will salvage the building and proceed with his development plans.

April 2008: Elks Building granted national historic status because of its influence in the region’s history. Brinkman says he expects to have condos on the third floor and office space on the second floor completed by late fall 2008.

2008-09: City of Dickinson approves extensions for Brinkman for various reasons, i.e., so he can secure government grant money, because of the fire, because of the economic downturn which led to lenders backing out, and because of a harsh winter.

2009-10: Brinkman’s Dickinson Elks Building LLC sues High Ball Construction, saying it caused the fire because of negligence. High Ball then sues Tacoma, Wash.-based New Care Construction LLC, Brinkman’s other company.

September 2010: Brinkman fails to meet fourth extension deadline.

November 2010: City hands Brinkman a fifth extension. Brinkman says he hopes to move tenants in by April 2011.

March 9, 2011: City puts stop order on the Elks Building because Brinkman had not paid the bill on a $4,227 building permit.

March 2011: Brinkman, who still had not paid for the permit, says he will still finish work by a city-imposed June 30, 2011, deadline. Meanwhile, Brinkman is allegedly indebted hundreds of thousands of dollars to contractors.

June 2011: On his fifth extension from the city, Brinkman says he will pay off his debts, sell the building and that construction will be done by about December 2011.

July 2011: City denies Brinkman’s request for a sixth extension. He misses fifth extension deadline of June 30, 2011.

December 2011: Brinkman, High Ball Construction and Wells Fargo — which joined in the suit spree because of fire-related water damage to its building that has since been demolished — reach a settlement.

January 2012: Construction resumes at the Elks Building. Brinkman says he is hoping for completion in June 2012.

September 2013: Building consultant Dave Maurer says Elks Building should be ready within a month.