Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Mike, in my book, you're a giant."

In my day job, I'm a Realtor. This summer I sold two buildings on my courthouse square for a brilliant man named Mike Kraft. I wanted to say something about Mike in my blog, and finally decided to simply post the letter I wrote to him after we closed the sale.

The Wild Building: 20 N. 9th St. in 
Noblesville, Indiana, one of Mike's restorations.

I want to thank you for allowing me to take you through the process of handing your Noblesville properties to a new owner. The trust you and Betsy put in me was humbling and inspiring. Far too often I work with people for whom the homes and historic buildings are simply houses and structures.  You and I both know your buildings, and what you did with them have meant much more to Noblesville.

I admire you more than I can say. You were a pioneer on the courthouse square in Noblesville with those two buildings at the very time I was struggling to do the same thing in the surrounding residential neighborhoods, in my own meager way.

In the 1980s most of the locals had given up on the courthouse square. When some business leaders were urging the county commissioners to tear down the courthouse to make way for more parking and move county offices to the highway, you bought and restored those two buildings and nurtured first class tenants. You inspired others. The money and effort you expended gave others permission – made them feel it was reasonable to do the same with their buildings. You inspired a mayor – Mary Sue Rowland, to promote downtown and gave her a solid example to point to as a model for downtown’s future. And when her Main Street downtown redevelopment program looked for it’s first office, you gave them one for $1 a month.

The home of Alexander's Ice Cream, Mike's other
stunning project at 876 Logan St., Noblesville IN.
You showed vision when it was lacking. From your office in Washington, DC you respected your hometown history when many of the folks here had forgotten or given up on it. When you bought those buildings twenty five years ago our square as a dingy, sad place. Back then I walked my children in strollers down its cracked and broken sidewalks and imagined it alive and vibrant again. Today we have one of the most dynamic courthouse squares in the Midwest. The seeds you planted 25+ years ago are a big reason why. Families walking their kids in strollers through downtown today have the luxury of taking it for granted. I’m so happy they can.

A few days ago my wife and I walked downtown and ate at Matteo’s, another tenant you nurtured in another building you once owned, and on Friday night we walked downtown with her 10 year old son to one of the buildings I just helped you sell, Alexanders, got ice cream and sat out on a bench. On both of those nights we looked out on the courthouse square – nearly every parking space taken, people on the sidewalks window shopping, the restaurant full, music spilled out of the sports bar down the street, trees growing up around the restored courthouse. Those nights I thought of you and the seeds you planted.

When I had my first weekly newspaper column in the 1990s, you sought me out on your trips to Noblesville, just to sit and chat. Do you remember that? I know you sought me out because I was a lonely voice of opposition in a town that didn’t care much for opposing views. Your encouragement meant the world to me and gave me reason to keep writing, erasing some of the doubts that preyed on me, countering the nasty letters to the editor in response to my columns. When I was the first Main Street president, fighting to get the rest of the courthouse square moving in the direction of your example, while I was being ignored or rebuffed by building and business owners as a starry-eyed meddler, your notes of support kept me going.

Do you recall 10 years ago you visited town while I was salvaging architectural detail from a house on 10th Street the city was planning to tear down? It was a house I rented when I first moved to Noblesville. You told me you had taken piano lessons there as a child and asked me to find you a memento. In the attic, I found the original ornate screen door that was once on the front door of the house. There was an old brass bell still hanging from a wire at the top of the door, a bell that would have rung when you as a young boy came through the door for your lessons. Made me happy to hand that tarnished old thing over to you.
Mike Kraft, on his recent 80th birthday.

Your sentimental love for this town blows me away. 

The years have taken their toll. I know your feet, your hands, and your mind are all moving more slowly now. As we worked to sell these properties it broke my heart a little when I sensed over the phone and through the emails that you were feeling powerless and of little use to the world around you. But you have moved mountains in the town where you grew up, the same place where I’ve made my life and where my own kids grew up, on the same streets you ran and loved as a child.

In my book, you are a giant.

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