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Published: Monday, 11/24/2003

Housing project adds life to Toledo

Some of the brick walls were left exposed in hallways of the St. Clair Historic Village apartments, which will be opened today. Some of the brick walls were left exposed in hallways of the St. Clair Historic Village apartments, which will be opened today.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

At a glance, the 11 upstairs apartments in the St. Clair Historic Village appear new with telephone and cable television hookups in every room, electrical outlets every few feet, and closets designed for the modern clotheshorse.

But in every apartment there are a few reminders of the late 1800s when the five buildings were built in a row at South St. Clair and Lafayette streets in Toledo's Warehouse District. Parts of the original brick are exposed in several apartments. Others have a beam, old baseboard, or original woodwork around windows.

That combination of new and old, seamlessly blended in rooms painted all white with exposed ductwork and gray or slate-blue floor coverings, will be formally opened today with a ribbon cutting, speeches, and public tours from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

By spring, Kathy Steingraber, executive director of the Toledo Warehouse District Association, hopes to have the 11 apartments rented. And by summer, she predicted the downstairs shops will be full. One apartment is filled now, and two businesses - a specialty hardware store and a coffee shop - have signed leases for storefronts.

If all the spots are filled, the association would collect about $224,000 a year in rent.

It is asking for rent ranging from $750 a month for an 850-square-foot apartment up to $1,250 a month for a 1,500-square-foot apartment. Those figures include water and sewer and a parking space. Downstairs, the association is asking for $10 per square foot per year.

Kathy Steingraber, executive director of the Toledo Warehouse District Association, showing original support beams kept in the 1880s structure, hopes the 11 apartments will be occupied by the spring. Kathy Steingraber, executive director of the Toledo Warehouse District Association, showing original support beams kept in the 1880s structure, hopes the 11 apartments will be occupied by the spring.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

The association will be able to pay its bills with an average of 80 percent occupancy or about $179,000 a year, Ms. Steingraber said.

Within five years, she said, she expects the association to be able to use some rent money from the village to subsidize another project.

The association has dreams of a grocery store, a huge theme restaurant, and more offices or apartments catty-cornered from the village at South St. Clair and Lafayette, where a group of buildings is vacant.

Within 20 years, the association should have paid off its loans of $1.95 million for the village.

It took the association five years to get to today's ribbon-cutting.

The association purchased the village for $305,000 in 1998 and hoped to finish it by 2000. But financing took far longer than expected and weather was problematic at key times, Ms. Steingraber said.

The association secured $351,000 in federal and local grants and $427,000 in historic tax credits. But Toledo leaders, who in 17 years had given the association between $25,000 and $70,000 a year to operate its office, grew tired of the slow progress and eliminated the association's funding in budget cuts this year.

That became one of the project's biggest hurdles.

“I really thought the value of what we were doing here was so straightforward and simple that everybody would get it,” Ms. Steingraber said. “We had trouble with the city getting it. ... It grew the challenge.”

When Ms. Steingraber applied for grants, some organizations inquired why the city had pulled its funding.

But yesterday, one city planner praised the apartments.

“That's a fabulous project,” said Bil Homka, principal planner for the Toledo Planning Commission and secretary to the Toledo Historic District Commission. The apartment lighting fixtures and kitchens, which have hardwood floors and generous counter space, are of higher quality than most downtown, he said.

“It's definitely five-star,” Mr. Homka said.



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