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Published: Tuesday, 3/9/2010

Building resolution harms United Way's move forward

BY BILL KITSON

KIDS or bricks? Maintaining a community or maintaining a skyline? Preserving families or preserving a deteriorating building with no foreseeable use?

United Way of Greater Toledo has moved into a new, efficient building on our property and applied for a permit to take down our previous deteriorating building. We have made every effort to be open and transparent throughout this process.

We accepted appointments with anyone who was interested in the old building. We gave tours. We opened our books to the media. We accommodated all other requests as we received them.

Other than answering all questions, we have not aggressively responded to or taken a stance against the small number of people who have spoken out against us on the demolition issue. However, I'd now like to clarify a few points.

Last week, Toledo City Councilman Joe McNamara introduced an emergency resolution that urged United Way “to pursue alternatives to demolition” of the old building. Council members voted 7-4 against the resolution, but three issues about it still require our response.

First, no one has made a reasonable offer for the building. We appreciate the sentiments of those who seek to save a downtown building, but this fight has gone on long enough. We must be logical and responsible with our donors' dollars.

No one — including Councilman McNamara, who toured the building in 2008 — has offered a financially viable solution for preserving it. Our board of trustees has thoroughly pursued every alternative. How long should we be expected to spend at least $200,000 a year to preserve and maintain a building that no one wants, when there are so many other, more-pressing matters in our community?

Second, the proposed resolution was a pre-emptive measure, contrary to the established process required by Toledo's municipal code. The procedure for reviewing our demolition application calls for the matter to go first before the City Plan Commission, which will decide whether to approve the permit. We are puzzled why Councilman McNamara attempted to override this protocol.

Third, with everything else that is going on in our community, we don't understand how there can be any justification for taking up so much government time, energy, and attention with this debate.

At a time when our community needs a serious turnaround, Mr. McNamara is focusing on an old, deteriorating building that has become an albatross for one of the area's largest charities. We are bewildered that he claims a commitment to northwest Ohio, but is not introducing resolutions aimed at helping kids get an education, families become financially stable, or more people get access to health care.

Councilman McNamara has asked us and others why we would not simply give the building away. The value of the land the building occupies far exceeds what the building is worth. It would be foolish, irresponsible to our donors, and shortsighted for us to sacrifice such a valuable asset.

Giving the building to a developer who “promises” to renovate it provides no guarantee that it would not eventually be torn down and its site converted to a parking lot. United Way, by contrast, has committed to use the space to create a park.

We are disappointed with Councilman McNamara and those who supported his resolution. It is unfortunate that the United Way is forced to invest further resources to reiterate a case we already have presented to the community, when there are so many other pressing issues.

We thank the council members who voted against the resolution for recognizing what really matters. We will not be distracted from our mission. We hope the community will join us as we continue our vital work.

Bill Kitson is president and CEO of United Way of Greater Toledo.



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