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Neighborhood leaders see hope for Lagrange St.

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Ted Grachek was one of five members of the first board of the Lagrange Development Corp.

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Ted Grachek, longtime owner of Tom's Carry Out, 2861 Lagrange St., has seen a lot of changes in the International Polish Village area since the Lagrange Development Corp. was born 25 years ago.

Mr. Grachek, 53, along with four others who were members of the first board of Lagrange Development, said they hoped the corporation would help breathe new life into a struggling neighborhood and business district.

He and those founders will be honored at the corporation's 25th anniversary at its annual meeting at the Zablocki Senior Center, 3015 Lagrange St., at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

The corporation will celebrate its accomplishments, from drawing crowds of 300 people to its town hall meetings, to its efforts at community policing and rehabilitating homes, to its annual Lagrange Street Polish Festival.

"I think [Lagrange Development] has become everything I thought it would be," Mr. Grachek said. "They are really multidimensional. They've revitalized and renovated about 200 homes, they worked to revitalize the business district here. I don't know what else they could do."

Terry Glazer, longtime executive director of Lagrange Development, said Mr. Grachek will be recognized with other founding board members James Nowak, Thomas Wisniewski, former Toledo city councilman Russell Wozniak, and Ralph Zychowicz.

"Most people see [Lagrange] as a declining neighborhood, but there are many benefits in living in this neighborhood," said Julia Bryant, a local real estate agent and president of the current Lagrange board. "I bought two homes here, and I had my opportunity to leave if I wanted to. I think it's still a great place to raise a family."

Mr. Glazer and Ms. Bryant admitted the perception of the Lagrange area took a big hit during the October riots near Woodward High School. The riots were sparked by the planned march by the National Socialist Movement. The riots played out on national television, and they reinforced negative perceptions of the neighborhood, Mr. Glazer said. He said, though, those perceptions are not accurate.

"Between 2001 and 2003, we've reduced crime in the neighborhood by 38 percent," Mr. Glazer said. "The perception is, though, that we have a lot of crime. We want to work to get the perception closer to the reality."

Mr. Glazer said Lagrange Development led the fight for years against the Westhaven Group, claiming it sold unfit homes to unwitting people in the neighborhood. That has been a charge Westhaven officials have denied.

In December, the Ohio Department of Commerce assumed control of the firm because it allegedly violated state securities laws.

Mr. Glazer said development of Heritage Village, 10 homes built along East Bancroft and Baker streets, was the first subdivision created in the Lagrange neighborhood in 80 years.

Ms. Bryant and Mr. Glazer said because of the October riots, plans Lagrange Development have had on the drawing board for some time now seem to be moving forward.

He said more attention has been given to the importance of developing a family resource center. Mr. Glazer said Boys and Girls Clubs of Toledo are considering establishing a unit at Sherman Elementary School, and a grant from the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic will be used be create a youth leadership and mentoring program.

"I think we have to tell more people about what we have here," Ms. Bryant said. "It's very comfortable to live here. Everything is close by. I enjoy walking to the library and riding my bike to Kroger.

"It still has a feel of community here. I think overall, Toledo has lost that, but you still have it here."

Contact Clyde Hughes at: chughes@theblade.com or 419-724-6095.

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