Corktown bar closed by construction incident had lost earlier court case against developer

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There was legal bad blood between the Corktown bar's owners and the mega-developer whose construction crew damaged the

The construction incident that damaged a popular Corktown bar — and forced its closing indefinitely, perhaps even permanently — wasn't the first exchange of unpleasantries between the bar and a neighboring developer, legal records show.

The owners of UFO Factory nightclub recently had their case dismissed in a legal dispute with the developer, whose project next to the modest bar is to be a towering $44-million retail and housing development.

In December, the hipster club's owners filed a lawsuit against developer Trident-Checker and its parent company Soave Enterprises, owned by billionaire Anthony Soave of Grosse Pointe Farms.

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The bar’s lawsuit claimed that land around the bar, now owned by the developer, had long been vacant and had been regularly used by the bar's owners and their predecessors for more than 15 years. That, said the lawsuit, allowed the club's owner's to claim it as theirs under a centuries-old principle of English common law called "adverse possession."

The lawsuit further claimed that use of the land was crucial to the bar because it provided access to its rear door and its trash receptacle. But a ruling in April in Wayne County Circuit Court dismissed the case, stating that UFO Factory's owners "shall have no further pending claims in this case.” The loss left the bars’ owners reeling from Soave’s legal and fiscal clout, said Livonia attorney Nadia Hamade, who represented UFO Factory in the case.

“It is certainly a mega, mega-Goliath versus David case,” Hamade said Friday. She is not "so far" representing the bar in the aftermath of the construction damage, Hamade said. The building has been inspected and deemed too dangerous to occupy, according to David Bell, director of Detroit’s Building Safety Engineering and Environmental Department. It leans dangerously and could collapse, according to inspectors, Bell said.

The developer of the project responded to the Free Press on Thursday with a statement about the damage. 

"We were informed (Wednesday) that during site work activity on the Elton Park development, a wall of the adjacent UFO Factory building was damaged.  Our general contractor, the Monahan Co., is currently assessing the situation to determine the cause and extent of the damage as well as the appropriate corrective measures," said Tysen McCarthy, vice president, Soave Real Estate Group.

Patrons of the hip watering hole on Trumbull near Michigan went online to vent about the damage to the bar. The bar, across from the old Tiger Stadium site, reportedly dates back to the 1930s. For decades, it was a working man’s bar called Hoot Robinson’s and was said to have once served drinks to Babe Ruth.

corktown-bar-closed-by-construction-incident-had-lost-earlier-court-case-against-developer photo 1Buy Photo

The UFO Factory in Detroit was damaged by a construction crew that was working on a new development next door. Picture taken Aug. 2, 2017 (Photo: Maryann Struman, Detroit Free Press)

Bartender Kayleigh Rose, 26, of Hamtramck said she was behind the bar when suddenly the building shook, bottles began flying from shelves and the club's big, bar-length mirror began shattering.

“We all ran outside and then we ran back inside to get the cook out,” Rose said. What had been a solid, cinder-block wall now admitted daylight through cracks that ran the length of the building. 

UFO Factory opened inside the old bar in October 2014 and has developed a loyal following, including dozens of online posters who expressed outrage over the damage to the bar.

Bartender Erin Kennedy, 27, of Detroit said the closing left about 15 employees jobless. “None of us are in a position to say anything about the developer and why this might’ve happened,” she said.

Kennedy and the other former employees will be working Monday night not far away at Corktown’s El Club, 4114 Vernor Highway, at a fund-raiser that will benefit those who’ve lost their jobs at UFO Factory, she said.

Contact Bill Laitner: blaitner@freepress.com. Staff writer Robert Allen contributed.

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Article Corktown bar closed by construction incident had lost earlier court case against developer compiled by www.freep.com