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Developer seeking to buy Toledo landmark

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The Blade/Herral Long
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A developer who has gained the reputation as a savior and someone willing to take risks and invest in aging downtown Toledo buildings has set his sights on one of the city's earliest skyscrapers.

David Ball confirmed yesterday that he has entered into negotiations to buy the Fifth Third Center building at Madison Avenue and Huron Street and is close to finalizing the sale.

"I am very optimistic that we will get through this and ultimately we will close on the deal to buy the building," Mr. Ball told The Blade.

"It is a deal that I very much want to do."

The agreement calls for Mr. Ball to purchase the 17-story building and three smaller buildings on Huron that are part of the banking operation.

Nearly half of the building will become vacant when Fifth Third Bank moves its regional headquarters to One Seagate before year's end. It will fill much of the space vacated last year by Owens-Illinois Inc., which moved its headquarters to Perrysburg.

The bank occupies space on eight of the floors of its current building, which reportedly was the tallest structure in Ohio when it was completed in 1906.

The 32-story One Seagate - the city's tallest building and several blocks away from the bank building - is owned by RVI

Group Inc., of Stamford, Conn. As part of the deal to move bank operations, the insurance group has agreed to purchase the Fifth Third Center.

"I will tell you that last week RVI and I arrived at an agreement to enter into a contract to purchase the whole block," Mr. Ball said.

Darrel Seife, a spokesman for RVI, would neither confirm nor deny that negotiations were under way with Mr. Ball. "I prefer not to comment," he said.

Mr. Ball has been a long-time player in the revitalization of the downtown and is known for preserving its landmarks. He restored and owns the Ohio Building on Superior and Madison streets. He bought and renovated the former Woolworth and Kresge buildings on Adams Street between St. Clair and Superior streets.

He also is partnering with former National Basketball Association player and Toledo native Jimmy Jackson in a $20 million project to renovate the Steam Plant along the Maumee River into a residential development.

The Fifth Third Center, originally called the Nicholas Building, has been the headquarters for Fifth Third's northwest Ohio region and its predecessors since 1931. It was known for many years as the National Bank Building. Cincinnati-based Fifth Third took over the bank in 1989.

Though details have yet to be worked out, Mr. Ball said he is committed to buying the building and hopes to close on the purchase as early as next month.

"I wouldn't be buying it if I didn't think I could make it work or if I wasn't getting a good deal," he said.

Fifth Third spokesman Karen Fraker said renovations for One Seagate to accommodate the bank's staff are to begin July 1. She said the bank is still on target to move 350 employees into the building at the end of the year.

The bank branch on the first floor of the building at Huron and Madison will remain. Fifth Third plans to open a branch on the first floor of One Seagate as well.

Mr. Ball said he wants to eventually restore the facade of his planned purchase to more what it looked like 100 years ago.

"I want to take it back to the original feel of the building," he said.

"I want the building to have its own identity."

His immediate plans, he said, include attracting and retaining tenants. Renting now in the structure are law offices, Toledo Community Foundation, Urban League, and Partners in Education.

The most recent appraisal by the Lucas County auditor puts the market value of the structure at $4,695,700. Fifth Third bought the structure in 1983 for $2.1 million and spent another $3 million to upgrade heating systems, according to Blade records.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-724-6096.

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