Escanaba City Council closes missing money case

ESCANABA — While details are sparse about an investigation into funds that went missing during a failed attempt at redeveloping the former site of the Delta County Jail, one thing is certain: the case is closed.

The decision was made following a closed session that lasted more than a half-hour held during Thursday’s city council meeting. Council members met during the session with Escanaba Public Safety Director Rob LaMarche and City Attorney Lisa Vogler, who attended the session virtually.

“I move to accept and follow the recommendation of the city attorney and director of public safety to close the criminal file discussed in closed session,” said Mayor Mark Ammel once the meeting returned to open session.

Around $29,000 worth of funds related to a state grant went missing during the city’s relationship with Proxima Management Group, which had publicly stated its intent to build a $23 million development on the sites of the former jail and Delta County Chamber of Commerce. The project included a $13 million hotel, as well as mixed-use retail and residential spaces.

The city’s relationship with Proxima began in 2019, when it was the only developer that expressed interest in redeveloping the site, but things went sour between the city and the developer in 2021. In September of that year, the city sent a letter notifying the Proxima it was exercising the 60-day notice of termination required by the agreement between the two parties. At that time, the city had had no contact from Proxima for about eight months and no demolition work had taken place at the jail site.

A press release will be issued early next week on the city’s decision to close the case, which, according to the city, has been under investigation since early 2020. The FBI also conducted an investigation into the missing funds, but it was unclear Thursday if the FBI was also concluding its look into the issue.

The first public statement about the investigation came in October of 2021 when resident James Hellerman attended a council meeting and called for the resignation of former council members Marc Tall and Ralph Blasier, claiming the two men were covering up the investigation to better their reelection bids.

“Heads need to roll. Something needs to be done because Escanaba has been marked before and taken and marked again and taken. And Escanaba doesn’t need to be a mark for people to come and just take money. It needs to be known that the problem is solved. Something needs to happen,” said Hellerman.

Neither Tall nor Blasier were reelected to the council, but City Manager Patrick Jordan has repeatedly cited the fact the investigation was ongoing as the reason for not releasing information about the case.

However, there is one thing the city has been adamant about since the case first became public.

“It has been absolutely ruled out that anyone from the city was involved in anything,” City Manager Patrick Jordan told the Daily Press last month. ” … There’s been no evidence, no implication, nothing that anyone at the city was involved.”

Despite the failed attempt at redevelopment and a few snags in the process of seeking a new developer for the site of the former Delta County Jail and the former Delta County Chamber of Commerce, plans are underway for the properties to be developed by North Shore Marine Terminal and Logistics, the Terrace Bay Hotel, and Swannee, Inc., which had previously developed the Lofts on Ludington. According to City Assessor Jim McNeil, all three developers are in active talks with the city to purchase the parcels or parts of parcels needed for their projects.

“Lots happening, it will be a busy summer, and it seems to be in a very good place,” City Assessor Jim McNeil told the council Thursday.

If the projects proceed as planned, the sites will be home to condominiums, a hotel, and an expansion of North Shore Marine’s existing ship repair operations.


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