High winds cause 3-D mural to fall

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz High winds Tuesday morning caused severe damage to the popular fish mural in downtown Alpena, as well as the building wall it was on. Cleanup and an assessment of the damage is under way.

ALPENA — Hundreds of hours of work and planning, as well as tens of thousands of dollars, came crashing to the ground with one big gust of wind Tuesday morning.

The colorful 3D fish mural and the building it was attached to at the Chisholm Street pocket park suffered severe damage when powerful winds tangled with the canopy that covered a section of the park and was fastened to The Local Basket Case.

The area has been barricaded and people are urged to stay away from the park until an assessment of the damage can be done and the wall stabilized.

The mural was made possible through Art in the Loft, as well as private and public donations. A Patronicity campaign through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation also helped to raise the needed funds to have the mural painted and hung.

Art in the Loft Executive Director Justin Christensen-Cooper said he drove by the park in the morning and noticed a dip in one of the sails that provide a canopy at the park. He said he contacted Alpena Downtown Development Executive Director Ann Gentry and the two met at the park where they saw a bow in the wall where the brick was beginning to separate from the building. He said he went upstairs to Art in the Loft when the wall gave way.

“I heard a loud noise and I could see the dust flying up to the window and I knew it had given way,” Christensen-Cooper said. “To see all of the hours and money put into this by our community gone in one fell swoop is sad. It is a sad day and gut-wrenching.”

Alpena Building Official Don Gilmet said there were a number of factors that combined to cause the wall to collapse. He said the wind sheer and the age of the brick on the building were the primary causes for the collapse.

“The sails were up and attached to the bricks and the bricks failed,” Gilmet said. “Those bricks are probably 110 years old and they didn’t build things back then the way they do today. The force of the wind in the sails pulled it down. “

Gilmet said the rest of the mural still hanging will have to come down and then the remaining brick on the wall inspected to see if the entire wall needs to be rebuilt or if some of it can remain in place and new brick added around.

Christensen-Cooper said Art in the Loft had insurance on the mural and building Property Manager Aaron Buza said there is insurance on the building. Although the DDA owns the park, it is insured by the city.

Buza said he was at Downtown Scoops when an employee called him and informed him there was damage to the building and mural. When he was aware of how severe the damage was, he said he was astounded.

Buza, who also sits on the DDA board, said the park is used frequently and many people pose for pictures in front of the mural. He said he believed the community had a special bond to the mural and was proud of it.

“I walk through that park three or four times a day and have taken pictures of dozens of families in front of it myself,” he said. “It is something that people not only enjoy, but also take pride in. It’s devastating.”

Christensen-Cooper said more than $50,000 was put into making the mural a reality, including about $12,500 from the MEDC, which matched public donations made to the Patronicity effort. He said when all of the in-kind contributions are included that figure is higher. It was completed in spring 2016.

Despite the collapse, Christensen-Cooper said he is confident Art in the Loft, the community and others will pull together to replace it, though he admitted it likely would be some time before that is possible.

“I’m a pure optimist, so yes I think we can rally again and do something,” Christensen-Cooper said. “We have a very committed and resourceful community, but for right now it just really hurts seeing no mural on the wall.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.