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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Okemos landmark has uncertain future

A cosmetology school expansion would demolish the Travelers Club International Restaurant & Tuba Museum. Owner starts petition to stop it.

by Sam Inglot

Friday, Aug. 17 — A longtime Okemos business owner says what little cultural heritage the suburb has left will be gone if his restaurant's building is demolished to accommodate a cosmetology institute’s expansion.


The Travelers Club International Restaurant & Tuba Museum, 2138 Hamilton Road in Okemos, would be demolished as part of a planned expansion of the Douglas J facilities a block away in downtown Okemos, Travelers Club owner Will White said.


“The Tuba Museum building has been a landmark on the four corners of Okemos and Hamilton Road for 65 years, the last 30 as Travelers Club International Restaurant & Tuba Museum,” White wrote in a petition to stop the expansion. “It is the only Tuba Museum in the world.”


The Dr. James F. Smiley House nearby, which was built in 1870 and is on the state’s Historic Register, also would be demolished, White said.


The cosmetology school, Douglas J, wants to purchase three buildings near the intersection of Okemos and Ardmore roads in downtown Okemos to expand its facilities, according to media reports. The site is about a half-mile south of the intersection of Okemos Road and West Grand River Avenue. Three buildings, including the Traveler’s Club, would be razed in the process. White has said that he will attempt to reopen at another location if his building is demolished.

The plan awaits approval from the Meridian Township Board of Trustees.

Property records show that Comerica Bank has owned the commercial buildings at 2138 Hamilton, which were built in 1949, since April 2011.


White isn’t as upset with Douglas J as he is with Meridian Township officials, the township Economic Development Corp. and the township Downtown Development Authority over the issue.


“It’s an irresponsible and shortsighted lack of planning,” he said. “The function of government is to do what’s best for the community, and they failed.”


White has organized a “Save the Tuba Museum” online petition to save the buildings. He called them the “little cultural heritage” Okemos has left. He is also part of a group that was looking to develop the area into an arts and culture hub, a plan he says fits better with Okemos’ downtown development plan.


“A core function of economic development is Business Retention & Expansion (BRE),” White wrote in an email. “The Douglas J project is an Expansion, but it is at the expense of closing three other heritage businesses, which is the opposite of Retention, so half of the equation is missing there.”

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