Thursday, August 3, 2017

Developer and UFO Factory's contentious relationship raises questions about damage to club

Posted By on Thu, Aug 3, 2017 at 7:16 PM

click to enlarge Members of a Monahan Company construction crew gather after they damaged UFO Factory while building an adjacent multi-million dollar residential complex. - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Members of a Monahan Company construction crew gather after they damaged UFO Factory while building an adjacent multi-million dollar residential complex.

Late Wednesday morning, a construction crew working on the $150 million mixed-use Elton Park development in Corktown damaged the neighboring UFO Factory, a popular rock club and bar.

The project's developer, Soave Enterprises, is building the development on land on three sides of UFO Factory's property, and an accident during foundation work left the club's walls cracked and canted, while its roof is partially dropped by a few inches. On Wednesday afternoon, the City of Detroit fire marshal condemned the building, and UFO Factory co-owner Dion Fischer told Metro Times that the club may not reopen for months — if ever.

The incident immediately led to suspicion among UFO Factory customers that the crew, Monahan Company, deliberately damaged the building at the behest of Soave. (The comments on Soave's Facebook page currently offer a good taste of that anger and suspicion.) The premise of their suspicion is that Soave is a huge developer building a posh complex in a gentrifying Detroit neighborhood — and could be willing to resort to nefarious means to remove a small arts and music venue that stands in its way.

Soave Enterprises estimates its revenues at $1.6 billion and owns real estate developments across the country, though it originally amassed its wealth in trash collection.
Fischer wouldn't say on Wednesday morning that he suspected that Soave purposely damaged UFO Factory, but he said he didn't know how it could have happened. He added, "Judging by our past interactions, I don't think they have our best interest in mind." Later on Wednesday, Fischer said his attorney had advised him to no longer speak with the press on the issue.

Also on Wednesday, Metro Times asked Elton Park PR manager Peter Van Dyke about the nature of the relationship between the two companies, whether the company had offered to purchase UFO Factory, and whether Soave would pay for the damages.

Van Dyke said all three questions were "irrelevant."

But multiple sources close to the situation confirmed that Soave presented a "lowball" offer to purchase UFO Factory in recent weeks.

Though Van Dyke brushed off questions about the contentious nature of Soave's relationship with UFO Factory, Wayne County Circuit Court documents obtained by Metro Times show that the businesses were engaged in a lawsuit and countersuit during late 2016 and early 2017.

UFO Factory opened in 2014, and Fischer and wife Aliccia Bollig-Fischer have owned the building since 2010.

Court records show that UFO Factory filed a suit in December in which it asked a judge to allow it to continue using land that Soave owned. Soave purchased all three parcels that border UFO Factory's property in 2014 and later barred UFO Factory from using what had become his property for dumpster and grease disposal. In its Third Circuit Court complaint, UFO Factory contended that complying with the order would result in irreparable harm, but a judge dismissed the case.

Soave then filed a countersuit, alleging that UFO Factory's ownership benefited financially from trespassing on Soave property, and sought damages of $615,000. That case was dropped in April.

Then on Wednesday, Soave's crews heavily damaged UFO Factory's building.

Video shot after Monahan construction crew members cracked the UFO Factory wall shows them ignoring pleas from Bollig-Fischer that they halt work. She then appears to call the police.

Separate video obtained by Metro Times also appears to show the crew refusing to stop working when ordered to do so by a Detroit Police officer.

Notably, this isn't the first time Soave, a company headed up by garbage collection magnate Tony Soave, was accused of intentionally and significantly destroying another company's property for its benefit. In a July 6, 1993 article entitled "King of the Heap," The Detroit Free Press detailed a case in which Macomb County Prosecutors alleged that Soave — through mob-figure Vito Giacalone — hired an associate to firebomb a Warren garbage dump so he could secure a $16 million City of Warren trash collection fee. After associate John Pree was caught, he entered the Witness Protection Program and testified that Giacalone asked him to commit the crime for Soave.

A subsidiary of Soave's company took over the $16 million contract a week after the firebombing. Soave was never charged in the case, and he and lawyers said Pree was a desperate, convicted felon who was lying on the stand.

Tony Soave was also brought into the federal corruption trial of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, after it was discovered that he had bought Kilpatrick expensive gifts and allowed him to use his private jet. Soave told a federal prosecutor he did so because he "didn't want to get on the wrong side of" the mayor.

Of course, none of this necessarily means Soave intentionally tried to destroy UFO Factory. It would be an expensive route for him to take, given the cost of possible litigation and the ill will it would generate.

But still, there are fears that this will spell the end of the club. Its ownership will likely receive an insurance settlement and determine what to do next, while its insurer either collects from Soave or Monahan's insurer, or sues them for the costs.

In the meantime, the UFO Factory's 15 employees are without work. Find out more about fundraisers and benefits to help them out here.

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