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Published: Monday, 8/23/2004

Last holdouts to Jeep move, but don't give up

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The former Kim's Auto & Truck Service grounds provide a backdrop for owners Herman and Kim Blankenship, who moved their business across Stickney Avenue. The former Kim's Auto & Truck Service grounds provide a backdrop for owners Herman and Kim Blankenship, who moved their business across Stickney Avenue.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

Surrounding the forlorn-looking block building that was Kim's Auto & Truck Service, Inc., curves a tall wave of freshly graded earth - DaimlerChrysler's impending expansion of the Jeep Assembly Plant.

It would appear to be exactly what DaimlerChrysler said it needed the land for in the first place: new jobs in the high-paying auto manufacturing field.

Kim's owners - Herman and Kim Blankenship - don't see it that way.

"It's just to make it look like they need the property," Mr. Blankenship said.

The Blankenships are the last holdouts from 16 businesses and the owners of 83 houses whose properties were acquired by the city to assemble a large site for DaimlerChrysler's new Jeep assembly plant in 1999.

Last week, they were forced by court order to vacate the corner property they bought at 3708 Stickney Ave. in 1994. They have relocated to land they own across Stickney.

And while DaimlerChrysler continues to beef up its manufacturing capacity in a city desperate for new jobs, the Blankenships continue to struggle for what they say is the right of the little guy.

On their side is consumer activist and presidential candidate Ralph Nader, for whom the Blankenships' battle is a platform in his bid for the White House.

"He did this long before he ran for president," Mr. Blankenship said. "Ralph cares about people, not corporations."

Mr. Nader has been a staunch defender of the Blankenships against what he calls "corporate welfare." He contends DaimlerChrysler didn't have the right to another private company's property - and didn't really need it.

The Blankenships' issue could fuel Mr. Nader's bid in Ohio. His campaign filed petitions last week to get on the Ohio ballot.

Democrat John Kerry's supporters have warned Mr. Nader's supporters that a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for President Bush. But Mr. Nader said he thinks the Blankenship situation pulls from both ends of the political spectrum.

"It's one of the ways we appeal to libertarians, independents, and others," Mr. Nader said in an interview with The Blade.

He said he was not impressed with DaimlerChrysler's bulldozing of the property surrounding Kim's Auto & Truck Service.

"They want to create a campus," Mr. Nader said. "The Blankenships were standing up for all the residential homes and small businesses that were subjected to eminent domain."

The Blankenships were raised in North Toledo - Herman graduating from the former Macomber High School, and Kim, whose maiden name is Hobbs, from Woodward High School.

They married in 1976 and opened their auto repair business in a residential garage on Oakland Avenue in 1991, but were ordered by the city to shut down in 1993 after neighbors in the Lagrange Village area complained. They moved to the Stickney site in 1994, making improvements on what they described as a neglected building. They have three sons "and four dogs," Mr. Blankenship said.

The Blankenships claim it is wrong for a city to take private property to give to another private entity. And they say the $104,000 offered is about one-fifth what it would cost them to erect a comparable building.

Since taking on the city over eminent domain, the Blankenships have lost at every level of state court. Now they are waiting to hear if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their appeal. Although the high court has twice rejected their request for a stay, a case in Michigan gives them hope.

On July 30, the Michigan Supreme Court overruled its own decision in the 1981 Poletown case, which allowed the city of Detroit to take the Poletown neighborhood to make room for a new GM Corp. factory.

City of Toledo officials are confident that they acted within the law, and that the city and DaimlerChrysler have been patient in letting the Blankenships exhaust every avenue of appeal.

Barb Herring, Toledo's law director, doesn't believe the recent Michigan Supreme Court case will change anything. That case rested on a provision in the Michigan Constitution - a provision not found in Ohio's Constitution, she said.

Additionally, she said, Toledo's taking of property was not only for economic development, but for the purpose of eradicating slum and blight - both valid reasons for eminent domain.

She points out that the Blankenships were offered $104,000 for property they bought in 1994 for $30,000. The price was upheld by a jury, and $104,000 was the fair market value set by the Blankenships' own appraiser. They have used the site for two years with no rent charged, Ms. Herring said.

The property surrounding Kim's auto had been left untouched until recently. But in a move that was much sought by city labor and business officials, DaimlerChrysler is planning to locate three new suppliers of car parts on that land.

DaimlerChrysler is now in the midst of doubling the number of models it produces at the Stickney site as part of a $2.1 billion expansion.

"The three new suppliers that are going in that area are going to need every inch of this space," said John Loftus, Mayor Jack Ford's special assistant, as he surveyed the long-disputed parcel on Friday.

Mr. Loftus said the city will use its own workers to demolish the garage and cart away debris remaining on the site, unless toxic contamination is found. He said that will start the week of Sept. 6.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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