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Published: Friday, 2/10/2006

Fifth Third Bank verifies its interest in One SeaGate

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER
O-I is to leave its riverfront quarters in September. O-I is to leave its riverfront quarters in September.
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As the probable future owner of downtown Toledo's hallmark office building is hustling to find new tenants, the chairman of Fifth Third Bank locally said yesterday he would consider moving to One SeaGate if the deal were sweet enough.

"Obviously, One SeaGate is the signature building in downtown Toledo, and if an attractive enough offer to lease space was made, we would have to consider it," John Szuch, chairman of Fifth Third of Northwestern Ohio, told The Blade.

The 32-story glass office tower on the bank of the Maumee River is about a quarter vacant now, but it will be about half empty by fall when Owens-Illinois Inc. moves its headquarters to a new building in Perrysburg.

The RVI Group, an insurance company in Stamford, Conn., has met with several Toledo-area companies or investors, including Fifth Third, to try to find new tenants.

If the building's current owner defaults on a $32 million mortgage payment due in September, as it has warned it might, RVI is the insurer and will be the owner. The current owner is Newkirk Master Limited Partnership, of Boston.

Fifth Third occupies seven floors of an office building at Huron Street and Madison Avenue, where it has 337 employees. Fifth Third occupies seven floors of an office building at Huron Street and Madison Avenue, where it has 337 employees.
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Bonnie Barkley, a vice president of RVI, said her firm has been actively involved with prospective tenants.

"We're in the middle of some very serious negotiations," she said. Citing advice of attorneys, she declined to discuss potential tenants or details of the negotiations. She said she is hopeful of a positive announcement soon.

Fifth Third's name surfaced Wednesday as one prospect. A bank executive said then the company was exploring options but declined to say whether they included a move to One SeaGate.

The bank has a regional headquarters in Fifth Third Center at Madison Avenue and Huron Street, where it has 337 employees. It occupies seven floors, about the space currently vacant in One SeaGate.

Since the 1981 opening of the tower that is known to many as the O-I building, the Toledo glass container firm has controlled the building. It has paid $232 million in rent and will pay more than $10 million for the first nine months of this year, until it moves to a new $20 million headquarters in Perrysburg's Levis Development Park.

When O-I moved into One SeaGate, it occupied almost all of the building, with more than 2,200 employees. It now has 340 workers there.

One SeaGate, built at a cost of $100 million, has been valued at $41 million by the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals. Local real-estate experts have estimated its value at $20 to $31 million.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said yesterday he knows of several firms or groups interested in taking substantial space in One SeaGate or possibly buying the building outright. He said hard bargaining for tenants is under way. "People of substance see that building as a showpiece," he said. "I'm optimistic something good is going to happen."

Many of the 45 tenants in the structure say they want to stay.

"We have some concerns such as parking access, upkeep, and maintenance, but we like downtown Toledo and want to be a part of it," said Debbie Speer, benefits administrator for Kingston HealthCare, a tenant in the building.

Laurie Clark, account supervisor for Fahlgren Advertising & Communications, said, "We had a discussion with Michael Realty Co. in December. I really want to stay. This building is perfect for me."

But at least one is looking elsewhere because of the uncertainty of future control and occupancy of the building.

Bob Bunda, a partner in the law firm Bunda Stutz & DeWitt, said, "We're starting to look elsewhere There's a lot of uncertainty." He is open to offers but those must be competitive with other office buildings, he added.

Contact Homer Brickey at:

homerbrickey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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