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Published: 10/1/2005

Blaze clouds future of warehouse site

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The owner of the warehouse at the corner Monroe and Ontario streets that burned on Thursday said that he hoped to convert it into a collection of residential and retail units.
The owner of the warehouse at the corner Monroe and Ontario streets that burned on Thursday said that he hoped to convert it into a collection of residential and retail units.
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Firefighter Brian Schoen looks on as Unit No. 7 of the Toledo Fire Department sprays water on the remains of burned building at Monroe and Ontario. Thursday s fire, which devoured the historic four-story commercial structure, kept fire crews battling for hours, and sent a huge plume of smoke wafting over the downtown skyline. The suspicious blaze has led to a call for the city to consider enacting an ordinance on how long buildings can sit vacant. Firefighter Brian Schoen looks on as Unit No. 7 of the Toledo Fire Department sprays water on the remains of burned building at Monroe and Ontario. Thursday s fire, which devoured the historic four-story commercial structure, kept fire crews battling for hours, and sent a huge plume of smoke wafting over the downtown skyline. The suspicious blaze has led to a call for the city to consider enacting an ordinance on how long buildings can sit vacant.
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Fire crews yesterday continued to monitor smoldering debris among the charred brick and blackened steel that once was a four-story commercial warehouse at Monroe and Ontario streets in downtown Toledo.

Meanwhile, the structure s owner, Keith Brown, who also is a developer, said he was struggling with what will happen next at the site of what had been a fixture in downtown for more than a century.

Had the long-vacant building been developed, he said, it would have been a signature piece for his company, Paramount Toledo. It would have been something we could have been proud of, he said.

Meanwhile yesterday, fire investigators continued to search for a man seen around the building before it was engulfed in flames shortly after noon Thursday. The blaze has been labeled as suspicious, in part, because the building had no electricity or gas systems running in it.

Mr. Brown had been in downtown Thursday on another project a collection of retail and residential units called the Bridges of Toledo project when he saw thick smoke fill the skyline.

Mr. Brown said he owes about $155,000 on the building because he had taken out loans to fix the roof and gut water-logged rooms that had been exposed to weather for years.

It had been vacant at least 15 years when he obtained it, he said. In fact, the building had been on then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner s dirty dozen list at one time.

The city was able to landbank the property in 2001 after it was forfeited by the former owner, and turned it over to Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown told The Blade he was enticed by its downtown location and towering arcade windows. Though city inspectors cited him in April, 2003, for a shoddy exterior, they noted by a Sept. 22, 2004, court date that he had fixed windows, placed a new roof on the building, and cleaned up peeling paint and cornices.

Mr. Brown said he never was able to develop the structure as he wanted as a collection of residential and retail units because of the immediate surroundings, including pawn shops, night clubs, and a gas station.

He said he recently offered to sell the building to a Columbus developer for $350,000 for low-income housing, but said he was concerned about whether such a use would be beneficial for downtown and whether the city would approve it.

Moreover, he felt that developing the building to its full potential of shops and apartments would have made it a $4 million to $5 million structure. Its renovations would have cost about $3 million, he said.

Kathleen Steingraber, executive director of the Toledo Warehouse District Association, said she tried unsuccessfully to acquire the building before Mr. Brown bought it.

She said the city should pass an ordinance preventing buildings from being kept empty for long periods of time.

We have to pass some legislation that people just can t sit on vacant buildings, Ms. Steingraber said, saying vacant buildings depress growth and become fire hazards.

Such fires can be costly.

Up to 60 firefighters were on the scene for more than four hours Thursday. Though those crews already were on the clock, another 16 had to be called in on overtime at an additional cost of $2,500, Joe Walter, the city s safety director, said.

Blade staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

Contact Robin Erb at:robinerb@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.



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