Written by Renee Schroeder
The downtown Morenci buildings pictured here have a long and vibrant history. The east building once housed Knoblauch’s Market which was a family-owned grocery store and meat market that served the community of Morenci proudly for years. The other housed Smith’s News Stand that sold newspapers but also camera and pool supplies, all while having fresh nuts roasting in the window. These buildings spurn fond memories in those Morenci residents who remember how vibrant a part they played in our community while also feeling a sadness when they saw the buildings become deteriorated.
In 2009, Mr. Ketan Patel had a vision for a new Subway restaurant located in the City of Morenci. He took the first step and stopped into Morenci’s city hall to inquire about available buildings in the downtown area. Renée Schroder, the city administrator, worked with him and presented some different possibilities that would meet his needs. Mr. Patel’s vision turned out to be a new life for these historic downtown buildings which had just begun a new journey.
At the time, the buildings were nearing a state of condemnation and demolition. They had suffered years of disuse and neglect which left them in this sorry state. Working with Renée at city hall and the State of Michigan, Mr. Patel purchased the buildings and was able to secure a Community Development Block Grant. This grant would be used for the buildings’ façade work to bring these gems back to an aesthetic state ready to house new businesses. City Hall employees worked tirelessly with Mr. Patel for months on the grant request, fulfilling all the state required mandates that come with the funding.
Months of hard work paid off when the project finally came to fruition in February 2012, with the opening of Subway in downtown Morenci. . The vision of Mr. Patel and the efforts of Morenci’s city hall employees has had a positive impact in Morenci’s downtown. Mr. Patel proved to be a savvy investor, recognizing the spur on economic development this type of rehabilitation would have on the downtown area. This includes the hiring of 6 to 10 people who now work at the Subway restaurant.
This success story continues to this day as Mr. Patel continues to work with City Hall employees to secure and execute a State of Michigan Housing Development Authority Grant that will be used to rehabilitate two apartments located above his Subway restaurant. Providing quality affordable housing in the downtown area is a productive use of space and a welcome addition to downtown Morenci. While Mr. Patel operates Subway on the east side of the building, he recently sold the west side to a young attorney. She is currently renovating the interior and plans to move in and “hang out her shingle” the summer of 2013.
Both buildings not only have a restored look but also renewed and much-needed functions in the community.