'The place looks better than it has in 25 years,' says Roger Homrich of Bay View Port Authority Docks LLC, which has 16 months to complete improvements to the vacant armory on Summit Street in Point Place.
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Circling the old Bay View Naval Armory on a recent summer day, Al Crawford choked back tears as he gazed at the broken windows and gaping holes in the roof that have left the once stately home of the naval reserve looking raggedy and forlorn.
"It makes me mad and sad to see it as it is now, " Mr. Crawford said. "Even the weeping willows are weeping."
The naval armory was vacated by the naval reserves in 1988 and purchased by the city in 1997 for $40,000. For much of the last 25 years, however, it has been an empty, crumbling monument to neglect.
There are tentative signs things are changing, though. Michigan-based developer Roger Homrich bought the armory in October, 2004, for $90,000 and a pledge to spend $200,000 repairing the facility for use as boat storage, with occasional use for public and historical events.
According to the contract, Mr. Homrich's company, Bay View Port Authority Docks LLC, has 16 months to complete the improvements. More than halfway through that period, he said he is on course. The lawns have been mowed, windows have been repaired, and Mr. Homrich said he plans to replace the roof in the next week.
"The place looks better than it has in 25 years," Mr. Homrich said, adding that he would welcome suggestions for how to use the site. "If no one had come along the future of the place was certain: demolition. Our aim was to preserve the historic value of [the armory]."
Spider webs fill a broken window of the old armory, which was vacated in 1988.
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Still, Mr. Crawford has heard of development plans before and is skeptical.
"I don't think there are any signs of improvement," he said.
Mr. Crawford is about as tied to the Naval Armory in Point Place as any man can be to a building. His father and grandfather helped build the structure for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, his high school prom was held in the main hall, and he worked for several years as a naval recruiter at the site.
Shabby though it is, the armory retains traces of its former life as a naval training and processing center. Carvings of heroic servicemen from each of the armed forces top the columns of the sweeping rotunda, and the elegant red brick and sandstone building still has its spacious park and views over the water.
Over the years, plans for redevelopment have been plentiful but something has always occurred to keep them from completion.
In 2001, Jerry Thompson, a businessman from Oregon, agreed to purchase the building from the city and redevelop the site as a retail and recreational center. The deal fell through when the city demanded Mr. Thompson produce the development funds up front.
Other proposals have run the gamut from naval museums to veterans centers to apartment complexes, but none has gained much traction with the general public or local politicians.
City officials think that this time, they have a solution to the situation.
"It's next door to the Toledo Yacht Club, so a boat store makes sense," said John Loftus, a special assistant to Mayor Jack Ford. And if they are wrong and Mr. Homrich falls behind in his obligations, Mr. Loftus said the city could take him to court as a last resort.
That is some consolation for Mr. Crawford, but he will not stand by. He plans to rally local veterans and residents to secure his vision for the armory.
"I'm not stopping," he said. "I'm going to get something moving to recognize the building for what it is: A historical monument, not just a boat store."
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