South Lyon Hotel owners vow to bounce back from fire

James David Dickson, and Candice Williams

Despite a fire that severely damaged a South Lyon institution early Thursday morning, its owners vow not to give up on the business.

“I feel very confident that we’ll bounce back,” said Corry Bala, co-owner of the South Lyon Hotel, a sports bar. “One way or another we’ll be back. We feel like we’re an integral part of the community too much to just let go.”

Bala said he learned of the fire when he received a call from his alarm company around 2 a.m.

“Obviously a million things are going through my mind,” he said. “It’s too early to tell what’s going to happen. My partners and myself and all parties involved want to rebuild, to keep it going.”

The building sustained “substantial damage,” Fire Chief Mike Kennedy said. Whether it can be salvaged will be an insurance matter. While the second floor had a roof collapse, the first floor was mostly water-damaged.

The extent of the damage didn’t surprise Kennedy.

“I’ve eaten there many times and thought that if ever there was a fire, it was going to be a tough one,” he said, due to the building’s open floor plan and the fact “the ceiling, floor and walls were all wood.”

The South Lyon Hotel dates to August 1867, when the town had fewer than 700 residents. About 12,000 people live in the community today, according to census figures.

Mayor John Galeas Jr. bought his home in South Lyon about the same time the current owners bought the South Lyon Hotel, now a sports bar, some 26 years ago. He described it as a local institution whose possible loss is “a hard pill to swallow.”

“Everybody’s in shock,” Galeas said. “When you lose something of this significance, you never know how much it hurts until it happens.”

Kennedy echoed those thoughts, calling the fire “a huge loss” to the community.

The sports bar participates in a number of charitable activities each year, said Bala, who was hired as a manager in 2001 and later became a co-owner.

“It’s become very evident what it’s been for the community,” Bala said. “My phone hasn’t stopped ringing all day.”

The blaze at 201 N. Lafayette started about 2 a.m., said Briann Salyers of the Police Department. The last units left the scene about 9 a.m., officials said.

Galeas joked that some on scene at the fire have suggested that Omar, a ghost famously thought to be haunting the building, was the culprit. According to the Michigan Paranormal Research Association, the South Lyon Hotel is “reported to be quite haunted.”

A few hours into the blaze, residents and businesses stepped up to help, Galeas said.

Lafayette Corner Cafe provided coffee to people on scene. Galeas said there is talk of a fundraiser to support the dozens of employees whose families will be affected.

Fire departments from Oakland, Washtenaw and Livingston counties battled the fire, Kennedy said. The investigation will be handled by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. Kennedy said he does not believe foul play will be a factor and that the fire probably was caused by something “mechanical or unintentional.”

On its Facebook page, the hotel posted photographer Tracey Hill’s pictures of the fire and said: “Our hearts ache deeply this morning. Thank you everyone for the kind words and well wishes.”