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Published: Saturday, 12/13/2003

Community groups defy odds, survive

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Bill Rixey, the executive director of Warren Sherman Area Council, said he feels like a booted contestant who refuses to leave the island on a TV reality show.

The Warehouse District Association, which works to bring development into the district south of downtown, also was not funded.

Mayor Jack Ford wanted fewer community development corporations to receive CDBG money and hoped some would merge or fold entirely.

Warren Sherman and the Warehouse District have done neither.

Warren Sherman has continued to build houses to fund itself. It has five houses under construction, and four already sold. The income is enough to pay the bills and keep the lights on.

“We re pretty much in survival mode,” Mr. Rixey said. “We are open to a merger, but it hasn t happened.”

The Warehouse District Association last month unveiled its $2.9 million renovation of a building at St. Clair and Lafayette streets. Executive director Kathy Steingraber, who has worked for free since her association lost its funding, said 80 percent of St. Clair Village s retail space will be filled by the start of 2004.

Ms. Steingraber said 40 percent of the loft apartment units have commitments since opening less than a month ago.

“We re very excited about our progress,” Ms. Steingraber said. “I think we have more than proven that we don t need to merge with another [community development corporation] to be successful.”

Ms. Steingraber said while the association was stunned by losing its funding, she hopes its success raising St. Clair Village will be cause enough for the city to give it block grant money. She blamed the lack of city money on a flawed evaluation system.

“The city s citizen review committee was made up of wonderful people,” Ms. Steingraber said. “But, they didn t have the capacity to understand what the Warehouse District was doing.”

Warren Sherman officials said they have tried to merge with other CDCs. An effort to bring together Warren Sherman and two other community development corporations that were not funded - Toledo Olde Towne Community Organization and Roosevelt Revitalization and Development Corporation - fell apart in the fall, officials said.

Hugh Grefe, senior program director for the Toledo Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national community support organization, said merging these neighborhood organizations, which for years established their own histories and methods of operations, is difficult and complex.

Mr. Grefe said LISC has given out $55,000 in grants to local community development corporations that showed interest in merging.

City councilman Michael Ashford said the CDCs were warned in 2002 that block grant money would shrink and they should consider merging.

“They didn t think it was going to happen,” Mr. Ashford said. “So this year when it happened, they said, You didn t tell us, but we did. They had the time to think about this.”

Mr. Ashford said he is not surprised by the work done by Warren Sherman and the Warehouse District, but he still would like to see them merge with other corporations.

“They can be stronger,” Mr. Ashford said. “I don t think they can come to us as a single organization [and receive block grant money]. We still would like to see them work with other groups out there.”



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