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Published: Sunday, 12/12/2004

Found for construction

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE REAL ESTATE WRITER

CONSTRUCTION equipment will again roar to life on metro Toledo's storied Lost Peninsula.

But this time, plans are for modest improvements to a 600-slip marina. Not in the works are the helicopter pad and hundreds of waterfront homes developers once talked about.

If the weather holds, owners of Lost Peninsula Marina expect to begin work within weeks on a $2.5 million project that will include construction of a clubhouse, cabanas, private showers, and indoor toilets to replace portable toilets in place for years.

Although the project is minuscule compared to earlier proposals that never got off the ground, it is the first major construction in more than a decade on the 200-acre finger of land adjoining Toledo's Point Place that is actually part of Erie Township, Michigan.

To the peninsula's west is the Ottawa River and to the east is Maumee Bay.

In a real estate market in which undeveloped waterfront property fetches premium prices, the return of earth-movers almost certainly will spark curiosity among house hunters and builders.

One indication: People interested in building on the shoreline along the north Maumee Bay and Lake Erie have asked land owners to keep their numbers on file just in case.

But don't look for houses to start rising anytime soon, said Melvin Belovicz, a member of the investment partnership that has owned the marina and about 65 developable acres since 1992.

"The first thing is we have to improve the marina," said Mr. Belovicz, a developer in Canton, Mich.

Added Raymond Roche, marina manager: "We want to make this a destination point. We're catering not so much to fishermen anymore, but to families. We're getting more and more upscale boaters with bigger boats. We need to cater to that clientele. We want to attract boaters from Cleveland and Detroit."

The history of the Lost Peninsula is rife with development schemes that never materialized.

As the west side of the peninsula filled with summer cottages that were upgraded and converted to year-round residences - many now worth $200,000 to 300,000, according to people who own real estate there - the east side has remained largely vacant except for the marina.

The peninsula is rich in history.

Early in the 19th century, Wyandot Indians settled there, growing corn and harvesting fish and game. In the last century, construction crews often uncovered arrowheads, shards of pottery, and bead work.

In 1835, the peninsula, along with Toledo, was part of a border dispute that briefly turned violent between the state of Ohio and territorial officials in Michigan.

Congress settled the Toledo War the following year by awarding Toledo to Ohio and a large swath of Michigan's Upper Peninsula to that state.

As part of the agreement, the Lost Peninsula stayed in Michigan even though it has no land link to that state. To this day, residents cross into Toledo to buy groceries and attend school.

During Prohibition, the peninsula was a popular landing spot for rum-runners.

The peninsula's name surfaced shortly after World War II when a newspaper writer wryly noted that Michigan had an Upper Peninsula, a Lower Peninsula, and a Lost Peninsula.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there was frequent talk of annexing the area to Toledo. But the matter was complicated by the existence of a state boundary.

In 1965, Toledo City Council called on the governors of Ohio and Michigan to open talks aimed at transferring the land to Ohio.

In response, a Michigan legislator argued that Toledoans should get an opportunity to vote on re-joining the state of Michigan, to which the city had briefly belonged before the treaty ending the Toledo War.

But neither proposal went anywhere, partly because Lost Peninsula residents weren't enthusiastic.

In spring, 1965, the peninsula was heavily damaged in a Palm Sunday tornado that killed 13 people in the Toledo area.

About half the peninsula's houses were damaged or destroyed, according to newspaper accounts.

By then, the late Walt Zachrich, colorful Toledo developer, was on the scene. Starting in the late 1950s, he worked to develop the eastern half of the peninsula.

At one point, he announced that he would build 705 condominium units on the site. But opposition from neighbors, as well as money woes, curtailed those plans.

Digging a series of canals to provide boaters access to the Maumee Bay and Lake Erie, he created the Lost Peninsula Marina with its 600 boat slips.

Mr. Belovicz and two partners in the Detroit area bought Mr.

colorful Toledo developer, was on the scene. Starting in the late 1950s, he worked to develop the eastern half of the peninsula.

At one point, he announced that he would build 705 condominium units on the site. But opposition from neighbors, as well as money woes, curtailed those plans.

Digging a series of canals to provide boaters access to the Maumee Bay and Lake Erie, he created the Lost Peninsula Marina with its 600 boat slips.

Mr. Belovicz and two partners in the Detroit area bought Mr. Zachrich out in 1992 and soon announced plans to fill the shoreline and land between the canals with 577 housing units priced from the lower $100,000s to the high $200,000s. The project cost was pegged at $17 million.

As Mr. Belovicz tells it, "We could never get the financing together. One of my partners died in the meantime."

"The area is ideal for residential," he said. "But marina improvements come first. It's a diamond in the rough."

The proximity of two restaurants, including Webber's Waterfront Restaurant and Lounge, adds to the appeal, he said.

Property owners believe the area will get a further boost if regulators approve a pending proposal to dredge the shallow Ottawa River to promote boating.

The marina has 85 acres, but about a fourth of that is under water, he said.

There is room for houses, but obtaining financing isn't easy for developments that combine a marina with housing, the owner said. Mr. Belovicz owns the marina with Christopher Connolly, operator of Sun & Sail Marine store in Harrison Township, Michigan.

Ted LaCourse, a real estate agent with the ReMax Central Group who specializes in Point Place, has watched the appreciation of houses at Lost Peninsula.

He sold a $49,000 house on the Ottawa River 15 years ago to a man who promptly tore it down and erected a $350,000 house.

Mr. LaCourse speculated that there would be great interest in houses at the marina. "It would be a beautiful spot for condos, especially with boat dockage behind them," he said. Such units would fetch $300,000 to $500,000, the agent predicted.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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