Living in Jackson

Rising from the Ashes

August 7, 2020

By Embracing Change

My husband was 32 when he purchased this retired three-story building. The behemoth covers the entire city block of the one-time eastern industrial corridor of the city of Jackson. Samuel B. Collins had manufactured farm tools, plows, pitchforks, and shovels in the initial factory built on this site in 1885. A flash fire leveled that first building. Collins rebuilt this current structure in 1895 on the old buildings’ ashes. His “new age” products were horse-drawn wagons, carts, and surreys with the fringe on top.

Fast forward to 1961, 76 years later.

That old building is new to Bob LaZebnik, a young entrepreneur. His challenge will require changing the course of a steam-heated structure the size of the ocean-going HMS Queen Mary. Like the pensioned-off ocean liner, the building had become obsolete, empty for eight years. The last company that owned the building had changed course to build sonar buoys for the US Navy, small transmitting beacons dropped from planes to detect foreign submarines.

Bob cleared away Jackson’s early industrial history: abandoned files from Sparton Corporation, handmade wooden molds left by the Jackson Automobile Company, carriage ribs found high up in the rafters from Collins’ horse and buggy days. Timeworn maple floors were leveled. The old steam boiler operated so inefficiently the amount of wasted fuel could have heated homes in the entire East end of Jackson’s Poletown neighborhood. The beast was tamed, fine-tuned to keep building tenants comfy and the Commercial Exchange’s bottom line in the black.

It took a 24/7 injection of TLC and considerable common sense to retrofit this idled hulk, this 206,000 square foot brick building. It has been upgraded from stem to stern into what today it has become an up-to-date office, warehouse and light manufacturing exchange. Bob had a vision and embraced change.

An aged building or ship can start a new life over and over and over again. On its final cruise in 1967 the HMS Queen Mary left Southampton, rounded the Cape of Horn at the southernmost end of Tierra del Fuego and settled in Long Beach to become a hotel/convention center and wedding destination. The Commercial Exchange is ripe for rebirth. Nothing new stays new forever. It takes guts, creativity, and considerable effort to embrace change and become new again.