Houghton to clean up former Backroom store

HOUGHTON – The city of Houghton plans to clean up the former Backroom Multi-Entertainment building to attract potential buyers.

The city took possession of the building two days ago following the sentencing of former owner Michael Jestila, who was sentenced to a year in jail Monday for providing marijuana to minors. Part of his plea agreement turned the building over to the city. He is also barred from doing business in the county.

Jestila is subject to a mortgage lien and a state lien on the building. Between six and eight months from now, Superior National Bank will put the building up for auction. The bank will receive proceeds first, followed by the state; the city will receive any money left over.

City Manager Scott MacInnes said he is working with Superior National Bank on finding a buyer for the downtown building. He said he has had four inquiries already.

MacInnes said he has gone through the building, originally the home of Kirkish Furniture.

“The building is certainly one of our key historic buildings in our community,” he said.

The city council approved $2,000 from the TV Franchise Fund to hire someone to paint the outside of the building. Upcoming tasks include painting over the purple in front and the window trim, covering the sign up, cleaning the stickers off the windows and creating a display in time for FinnFest USA 2013.

Once that is done, MacInnes said the city will turn the power back on in the building and check to make sure the heating system is working properly. The building has been without heat since February.

“I think it’s important that we know the condition of the heating system,” he said. “I understand that the boiler’s fairly new, but the heat was also turned off this winter. If the building doesn’t get sold before winter, I would come back to you and say heat the building for the winter. We cannot let that building sit unheated for another year.”

The building must also be cleaned out. Jestila has another 40 days to remove items from the site.

Councilor Daniel Salo asked what would happen to any property left over. Everything left over after that becomes the city’s property, MacInnes said.

“I hadn’t been in there for some time, but there were a lot of books in there,” Salo said. “It’d be a shame if they just get trashed.”

MacInnes said the general-circulation items, which are still in the building, might be sold off.

“We’ve got to get it cleaned up,” he said. “We can’t leave it that way.”