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Published: Friday, 7/7/2006

St. Clair Village subcontractors sue pair

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The colorful 19th-century buildings along St. Clair and Lafayette Streets house several businesses, including Dowtown Latte, AHAVA Spa, and Cold Fusion Creamery, and 11 loft-style apartments. The village, situated near Fifth Third Field, is viewed as the centerpiece of downtown revitalization. The Toledo Warehouse District Association owns the project. The colorful 19th-century buildings along St. Clair and Lafayette Streets house several businesses, including Dowtown Latte, AHAVA Spa, and Cold Fusion Creamery, and 11 loft-style apartments. The village, situated near Fifth Third Field, is viewed as the centerpiece of downtown revitalization. The Toledo Warehouse District Association owns the project.
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Eleven subcontractors who worked on the St. Clair Village historic renovation banded together this week to file a lawsuit against Con Keefer and Dave Ball, claiming the pair owe them about $400,000 for work, plus interest and attorney fees.

The row of 19th century buildings near Fifth Third Field is a centerpiece of the downtown redevelopment near the ballpark. But several liens have been filed over the unpaid bills for the development, which is near St. Clair and Lafayette streets and home to 11 loft-style apartments, Downtown Latte, AHAVA spa, and Cold Fusion Creamery.

The Warehouse District buildings were renovated by Keefer Construction LLC. The company, owned by Mr. Keefer and Mr. Ball, hired the subcontractors. The pastel-colored St. Clair Village is owned by the nonprofit Toledo Warehouse District Association. Two banks and local taxpayers financed the project.

Kathy Steingraber, executive director of the warehouse as-sociation and developer of the project, said the warehouse association plans to file suit too.

Mr. Keefer and Mr. Ball sued each other after the project was completed. They do not speak.

Ms. Steingraber believes Mr. Keefer and Mr. Ball owe the money as 50-50 owners of Keefer Construction.

The liens have hurt the association's reputation, she said. "It's going to be ugly."

Mr. Keefer, who declared personal bankruptcy, did not return a call seeking comment.

Mr. Ball, who is the developer of the publicly funded steam plant project and who has redeveloped several downtown blocks, said he was taken by Mr. Keefer and said again, yesterday, he has paid bills for Keefer Construction that were not his. He refuses to keep paying and won't be publicly pressured to cover bills that aren't his, he said.

He said Keefer Construction, the firm, owes the subcontractors, but he was just an investor, the same way someone who owns General Motors stock is not liable for paying the car company's bills.

He said he was advised against doing the project and was never at the construction site. The subcontractors simply see him as an easy target, he said.

"Keefer Construction LLC does owe them money. I had no direct involvement with this job. I've paid Keefer Construction," he said. "I was a silent partner."

Ms. Steingraber agreed that Mr. Ball was never at the site. "I can tell you I knew from the start he was an owner - that he was 50 percent owner or more. But I never saw him at the project," Ms. Steingraber said. "It doesn't matter. He didn't pay them."

Mr. Ball said he paid a subcontractor out of his own pocket, even after giving Mr. Keefer money for that purpose. The subcontractor, a childhood friend who runs M&M Heating & Cooling, called Mr. Ball to ask about the missing payment, so he paid again, Mr. Ball said.

"They have basically said, 'We are going to embarrass you,'●" Mr. Ball said. "I'll defend myself in court."

Several other lawsuits have been filed, individually, by the subcontractors in the past that claim they were not paid.

"We were there first [with a lawsuit]. We've tried to settle with [Mr. Ball], and no reasonable offer was made, just attitude and threats," said Dan Grant, owner of Decorative Flooring Services and spokesman for the group.

The subcontractors listed in the most recent lawsuit and the amounts they claim they are owed, plus interest and attorneys fees, are:

●Decorative Flooring Services, $29,507.

●Mondo Mechanical, $39,650.

●Bureau Concrete, $20,860.

●Capco Painting, $20,267.

●Todd Alspach & Associates, $17,009.

●Buckeye Asphalt Paving, $11,864.

●A. Storer & Sons, $11,096.

●Toledo Elevator & Machine Co., $9,880.

●S&S Building Supply Co., $9,742.

●Interstate Commercial Glass and Door, $7,364.

●Regent Electric Co., $67,835.

The Toledo Warehouse District Association paid about $2 million to Keefer Construction and was assured by Mr. Keefer in signed, notarized documents the subcontractors were paid, Ms. Steingraber said.

Interested in building up the Warehouse District, the city of Toledo loaned $250,000, gave $148,000 in facade grants, and approved a 12-year tax abatement worth roughly $20,000 a year. Lucas County subsidized part of the interest on a $1.7 million Fifth Third Bank loan. Sky Bank provided a $500,000 loan.

"I think that's wonderful," Ms. Steingraber said of the suit. "Every time a lien has been placed on the property, we have to answer it. We spent money on attorneys that could have been spent on community projects. It's been a real burden."

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick

at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6077.



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