TECUMSEH — Last month, an online publication that reports on local and state governments in Michigan published a story alleging that Lenawee County Commission Chairman David Stimpson stands to benefit from Project Phoenix with several properties he owns in the city of Tecumseh, including a couple purchased a month after the county board approved proceeding with buying the Project Phoenix land.
Stimpson, who owns three residential properties besides his own home as well as four commercial properties and a warehouse, says he has been investing in Tecumseh properties since 2006 with the intention of restoring them and creating a better community. At no point has he sold any of his properties, nor does he have any intention of it. Stimpson said he stands to lose as a result of Project Phoenix because his property values will rise and his taxes on those properties will go up.
He plans on passing along the properties to his children after he dies.
Along with the questions about his property portfolio, Stimpson said he has received death threats, most recently about Project Phoenix.
Project Phoenix is the nickname for the recreation and events center the county has proposed building on the 50-acre site of the former Tecumseh Products Co. on the south side of Tecumseh. The county paid $2.3 million for the land. Last month, the county commissioners received estimates on two possible paths forward with developing the property. The larger project had an estimated price tag of $88.8 million. The smaller project came in at $64.3 million.
Among the possible sources of funding for the project is the county’s allocation from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Critics of Project Phoenix say the funding would be better spent in other ways. The Michigan Capitol Confidential story said Stimpson recommended members of a subcommittee set up to decide how to spend the county’s ARPA funds. That subcommittee recommended using $10 million in ARPA funds for Project Phoenix, but the commissioners later decided to create a committee of the whole to review how to spend the funds.
The subcommittee was Stimpson and commissioners Dawn Bales, R-Madison Twp., Terry Collins, R-Adrian, and Ralph Tillotson, R-Adrian Twp. Collins is the board vice chair, and Tillotson is chair of the board’s ways and means committee.
“I’m the kind of guy that nobody owns. I make my own decisions and I’ve got everything paid for. I don’t owe nobody nothing and I keep it that way,” Tilotson said, noting that the townships, villages and cities received $10 million of their own in ARPA funding. “It’s theirs to spend. I would think that they would get busy and take care of their own business and try to quit living on rumors.”
Collins said the four people who were originally on that subcommittee make their own decisions.
“I think each of the four of us that were originally on the committee are our own individuals,” Collins said, noting that no commissioner should be receiving death threats because of the decisions they make. The Phoenix Project should be decided on its merits alone. He said Stimpson’s purchases are a private matter, not a commission matter, and he did not want to comment on them.
Bales questioned why the publication and the people making death threats singled out Stimpson among all the other property owners in Tecumseh. Stimpson has been investing since the early 2000s she said.
“I know that he’s had his car keyed, he’s had his tires slashed, he has people taking pictures of his house when his children are in there,” Bales said. “No commissioner should face that. There is no place for this at all. There’s no place for it period.”
That subcommittee is now comprised of the full board of commissioners. The subcommittee is seeking the advice of legal counsel on the issue. Ultimately, the full board will decide how all the county’s ARPA money will be spent in committee and then vote on it at a regular board of commissioners meeting.
“How the ARPA funds will be spent has not been decided yet. Everything was sent back to the committee,” county administrator Kim Murphy said.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is a news service operated by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank based in Midland. Capitol Confidential “reports with a free-market news perspective,” according to the “about us” page on its website.
Stimpson said the death threats, harassment and bullying has been not just about Project Phoenix but also pandemic-related issues.
“We’ve gotten threats at the office that I should just kill myself and die, and they said that to my receptionist. I’ve gotten threats from some of these people being on my front lawn. I’ve gotten threats from three people who were hiding behind my truck in a dark parking lot who wanted to come out and intimidate me,” Stimpson said. “I mean, it’s been horrendous. A couple of weeks ago, someone showed up at our house. They left before I could get there. Just my children were home. It’s been scary. We’ve gotten all kinds of stuff and then it’s on the heels of everything from the pandemic, where I got lots and lots of threats from similar people. I’m not going to let people bully their way into an opinion just because they can act obnoxious.”
BCKS Investments LLC is Stimpson’s real estate firm. The letters stand for the names of the people in a law firm he was a partner in 18 years ago. In 2006, he bought out his partners, including the Chicago Boulevard building which houses his law firm, Stimpson & Associates. His partners took the firm’s building in Monroe. Later on, Stimpson bought the building next to his law office and put in a patio near the city parking lot behind the buildings.
Since 2006, Stimpson has purchased several properties including his family’s now-restored 1839 farmhouse and commercial properties that house small businesses like the IlluminaTe Dance and Art Center in the old Eagles building at 125 S. Evans St.. Prior to the dance and art center, the building sat vacant for a couple of years. After Grey Fox Floral was burglarized and burned down three years ago, Stimpson cleaned up the Eagles building and let Jan and Gary Fox set up their floral and coin collecting businesses there until they could rebuild their place.
After the Foxes moved out, Stimpson started restoring the building in the middle of the pandemic when construction costs soared. The dance and art center moved in a few months ago.
Last November, Stimpson purchased a residence down the street from 125 S. Evans St., which he rents, and the building that used to house Mac’s Traxx, which was a musical instrument and supply store. It is now rented out to a pottery place. It was a package deal. If he purchased the residence, he also had to buy the Mac’s Traxx place, Stimpson said.
Those properties are about two blocks north of the Products site.
Also in November, he purchased the old Hamblin Co. property on East Logan Street for a warehouse. That’s used for storage by two local companies.
This property is about a half-mile north of the Products site. Its large, gravel parking lot is across North Evans Street from the Market on Evans, where the Tecumseh Farmers Market is.
Stimpson said he takes in enough on his rental properties to cover the insurance, taxes and mortgages.
“I want my kids to live here and to come back here and I want their grandkids here. I want them to have something for themselves. They’re (the properties) long-term investments back into the community. I have no interest in selling them. I’ll be developing and restoring them,” Stimpson said. “We’re trying to keep the downtown vibrant and reinvesting in that so that our downtown merchants do well. When they do well, we develop new things and people want to come downtown and buy stuff and that makes a vibrant downtown and a healthy downtown and young people want to be a part of it.”
Despite addressing the allegations multiple times in public forums, in government meetings and on social media, Stimpson is still the subject of accusations by some Lenawee County residents that he is misleading the public and promoting Project Phoenix for personal gain.
“These individuals are saying I did something nefarious. Their premise is I’m going to develop all of these properties and I’m going to sell them and make money. I’m not selling the properties; I have no intention of selling the properties; I’ve never sold any of our properties,” Stimpson said, noting that the development amounts to a huge tax increase to him, a financial loss. “What happened is they’re using this as a rallying cry because they don’t want economic development in the county. They don’t want people to continue to grow and change. They don’t work here, a lot of the individuals that are against it. They work elsewhere and they don’t want anything to change here locally. It’s unfortunate, and the city here does very much want it. The city here embraces that development mentality, and this doesn’t hurt anybody in Morenci, it doesn’t hurt anybody anywhere. So it’s just kind of sad they decided to be divisive about it.”
Stimpson said he welcomes residents with questions or concerns about Project Phoenix, his properties, or his investment in the community to contact him at 517-423-0999 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.