Pillar collapses at Traverse City restaurant

Crews are working late into the night determining the structural integrity of the building.

A night out on the town turned into a scary situation for people dining in downtown Traverse City Friday night.

A brick beam inside Red Ginger on Front Street collapsed around 7:30 p.m.

"We had a column simply disintegrate," said Tom Darga, the building owner. "It's an old original column."

Everyone got out safely, but there are still some major concerns.

Crews are working into the night assessing the damage and determining whether the building is safe. They are starting in the basement, working their way up. Darga says it's a dangerous job.

"The men are in peril as we come up because if something happens, it's going to happen above them," explained Darga. "There's nothing to stop it but gravity."

The streets were full of people trying to learn more about what happened.

People who were inside the restaurant say it was terrifying when the pillar collapsed.

â??The mortar kept popping off of the pole,â?? said Lynn Wilson who was seated inside Red Ginger at the time of the collapse.

She said a group of girls at a table nearby were moved because chunks of brick and dust were crumbling around them. That caused Wilson and her friend to worry.

â??We looked around and identify where the exits were at the back of the building because we were concerned. Then before we knew it, it just exploded. The pipe, the whole brick-and-mortar exploded and the upper ceiling collapsed,â?? Wilson recalled. â??I saw one guy who had tripped on a chair when he was coming out but I don't think anybody was hurt by the concrete coming down.â??

â??Everybody started running for it, trying to get everybody out before the rest of it collapsed,â?? said Leslie Egelski, Wilsonâ??s friend. â??We didn't know what was going to happen.â??

The collapse left a gap between the ceiling and the floor above.

â??There's got to be an upper floor up there and I hope there was nobody up there because the floor would've dropped a bit,â?? said Wilson.

There are people who live upstairs. Janice Binkert lives on the third floor. She got a call from a Red Ginger sous chef asking if she was home. As it turns out, Binkert was minutes away from the disaster.

â??He said thank goodness. He said where are you? I said on my way home will be home in about five minutes,â?? explained Binkert.

The scare isn't going to keep customers away.

"We were looking forward to tonight. We'll be back," said Wilson.

There's no word yet on when people who live here can get back inside.

The State Theatre evacuated and cancelled all showings for the rest of the night due to safety concerns.

Horizon Books was also evacuated.

The State Theatre and Horizon Books are expected to be closed throughout the weekend.

"We're in downtown Traverse City on the weekend and it's a beautiful day... the State Theatre and Horizon Books would love to be open however they've been very cooperative and understand the concern for life safety," said Jim Tuller, Traverse City Fire Chief.

Structural engineers are expected to arrive Monday to help determine what caused the pillar to collapse, and how long it will be before Red Ginger will be open for business.

One of the owners of Red Ginger says her staff was very professional in how they handled the situation, and that she's proud they were able to get everyone evacuated safely.

The building owner echoed those sentiments.

"When the column collapsed, Red Ginger folks were absolutely spot on. They got everyone out of the building safely," said Darga.