WHITEFISH — A Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in Whitefish was demolished overnight after a last-minute flurry of fundraising to save it failed to raise $1.7 million by a Jan. 10 deadline.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Lockridge Medical Clinic Building was designed by the famous architect the year before his death in 1959.
The 5,000-square-foot building was purchased by Mick Ruis in 2016. He had put the property on the market last year for $1.7 million.
Ruis, the developer of Columbia Falls’ Cedar Creek Lodge and Convention Center, tore down the building to build a three-story commercial development that will include retail space, professional offices and housing units.
The developer and horse trainer has said he didn’t know the building’s historical significance when he purchased the property.
After Ruis didn’t receive any viable offers over the past year, he decided to move forward with the project. When contractors began performing asbestos-abatement work on the building, the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy began working Jan. 3 to save the building.
Ruis set a deadline of Jan. 10 for the conservancy to find a buyer.
In a press release, the conservancy said Wednesday it made a full-price offer to Ruis’ Whitefish attorney, Ryan Purdy, on Jan. 8 that provided for a substantial refundable deposit paid directly to Ruis with 60 days to close on the full $1.7 million asking price. The conservancy also wanted to be able to inspect the property to determine the amount of interior demolition that had already occurred.
Through his attorney, Ruis replied to the offer with a demand for a 50 percent larger nonrefundable deposit that had to be paid by 5 p.m. Jan. 9. The terms included payment in full by Jan. 22.
The conservancy said that wouldn’t allow it time to inspect the building, which is now surrounded by a fence. Crews have already chopped down surrounding trees.
The conservancy’s release said it was concerned that, without inspections, a potential buyer may not know how much of the interior had already been removed.
“As negotiations continued under these increasingly unorthodox terms, FLWBC and its allies attempted to raise the full nonrefundable deposit within the near impossible time frame set,” the release read.
With public support for preserving the building growing, evidenced by numerous phone calls and emails from concerned citizens, the conservancy offered a substantial portion of the nonrefundable deposit at the close of business on Jan. 10. It asked Ruis for one more week to allow the conservancy to launch a crowd-sourced funding campaign to raise the full deposit amount.
That offer was rejected at 4:15 p.m. Central Standard Time on Jan. 10. Ruis also rejected a subsequent request to salvage architectural elements of the building prior to its demolition.
“The board of directors of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy agreed the owner’s proposals provided no realistic path to acquiring the building, short of an investor willing to put down $1.7 million cash without reasonable time to complete their own due diligence on the property,” said Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. “We certainly attempted to make that happen alongside many other options we explored in the incredibly brief window of time we were given to find a new solution.
“Complex commercial real estate transactions don’t happen overnight, and we believe a realistic offer was submitted to the owner by his deadline that would allow the organizations working to save this building to continue to fully finance its purchase,” Gordon said. “We in the preservation community are all incredibly disappointed by this outcome, to say the least.”
Preservation organizations including the conservancy and the Montana Preservation Alliance have been working for a year to put a deal in place. A local businessman had found a buyer for the building, but that buyer needed to close on another deal to obtain the capital needed to complete the purchase.
“It was communicated to all of us through our local contact working to broker the deal that the developer would not move to demolish the building until late 2018, by which time we expected the intended buyer to have their financing and complete the purchase,” Gordon said. “None of us are aware of why the owner changed his mind and moved up his demolition plans.
“It left us all scrambling to find a new cash buyer at the last minute,” she said. “When none could be found, we made several appeals to the owner for more time to mobilize the many small donors from the public who contacted us wishing to contribute whatever they could toward saving the building, but he would not grant any more time.”
Purdy did not return several phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday.
This story contains information from the Associated Press.