BENTON HARBOR — Bryan Seckelmann still remembers getting dozens of phone calls telling him his building had fallen into the street.
In June 2016, the roof collapsed along with a portion of the building at 209 W. Main St., leaving bricks scattered over a portion of the downtown Benton Harbor road.
“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all,” Seckelmann said. “We had to put a lot of our time into this building to save it. This building is worth saving. Not too many people could do it affordably to make it worthwhile.”
According to Seckelmann, previous owners had built a roof on top of the original roof. The excess weight led to the collapse that pushed Seckelmann’s plans back a few years.
Now Seckelmann is on the cusp of finishing a three-year project to raise the building’s roof and turn one of the oldest brick buildings in the city into a venue for wedding celebrations.
Built in 1905, the building – once a car dealership – has a roof once again, along with several other features.
Seckelmann is calling the wedding venue Secret Garden, named after a private garden in the back of the building.
That portion of the building no longer has drywall, but showcases exposed brick. Seckelmann tore off the back section of the 7,000-square-foot building, creating an indoor courtyard.
“You can get married outside on a good day or inside when there’s bad weather,” he said.
Seckelmann bought the building several years ago along with the building at 165 E. Main St. in Benton Harbor – now home to another wedding venue that Seckelmann named the Hawks Nest.
Miranda Skibbe, events coordinator for both venues, said Hawks Nest is smaller than Secret Garden.
“(The Secret Garden building) is very industrial, so you’re going to see the steel beams,” Skibbe said. She added that there will be unique decorations for the venues based on Seckelmann’s hobby. “Bryan is a picker and likes to get old gas lamps and other interesting antiques.”
Seckelmann said he’s already found a 1950s Coca-Cola machine and phone booth.
The Hawks Nest offers a 60-person capacity, meaning it can be rented out for bridal showers. The Secret Garden will hold up to 300 people for weddings.
“There are a lack of venues around here,” Skibbe said. “We wanted to find a good use for this unique space.”
Skibbe hopes to have the venue open by the end of summer. With that as the goal, Seckelmann said the timeline would depend on permitting.
“They’ve been there every day,” Skibbe said. “It’s been a struggle. He’s from Chicago and can only come into town on the weekends. But he has people working there.”
While the Hawk’s Nest has the necessary permits now, Seckelmann said he still has some work to go on Secret Garden.
“It’s coming to fruition. I’d say it’s about 95 percent (done),” he said. “I’m really excited to see the finished version.”
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