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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2008

United Way site still has value, its architect claims

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For the first time in about five years, retired architect Byron West yesterday toured the United Way building that he helped design four decades ago.

His conclusion that it is structurally sound but needs many costly mechanical upgrades is similar to that of others who have inspected the building, which the United Way of Greater Toledo plans to demolish.

But Mr. West said he believes the building at One Stranahan Square has value as a distinctive downtown landmark.

I just want to make sure they haven t looked at it purely as dollars and cents, Mr. West said. I think it has a greater role in the community than just 100,000 square feet of space.

The agency has said it can no longer afford to maintain its 39-year-old home, and a renovation estimated at more than $10 million would be too costly for the nonprofit organization.

It plans to build a smaller building next door to its current structure.

I don t see anything unusual for a 40-year-old building, Mr. West said yesterday after the walk-through.

Many of its mechanical systems are out of date, and there are code issues, Mr. West said. That includes a lack of sprinklers in the building and air handling equipment that must be upgraded.

Many building code requirements have changed since the building was constructed, he said, such as regulations for handicapped accessibility.

Since the United Way s announcement of its building plans, Mr. West has expressed sadness and frustration with the agency s decision to tear down the building, and has questioned the United Way s estimate for the cost of new construction.

Yesterday Mr. West toured the building with United Way officials, two engineers, and Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

The Blade and other local media, who had been notified about the tour by the mayor s office, entered the building s basement, where the group started its tour.

But the media were not allowed to continue the tour, at the request of Mr. Finkbeiner.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he and Mr. West needed to have an honest discussion without reporters and cameras present.

We ve got a lot of work to do if we want to save this building, Mr. Finkbeiner added.

Bill Kitson, United Way of Greater Toledo president and CEO, said the mayor had requested a private tour and he would honor that request because he wanted Mr. Finkbeiner to tour the building with Mr. West.

Mr. Kitson added that he was in a no-win situation.

The United Way has given several tours of the building in the last month that have been open to the media.

Mr. Finkbeiner apparently requested a tour without media despite having notified news outlets of the tour.

Earlier this week, the mayor asked the United Way to hold off on demolishing the building for three years to give time for another user for the structure to be found.

Yesterday was the first time the mayor toured the building.

Mr. Finkbeiner said it needs an owner who wants to be part of history and uniqueness.

He said he didn t believe the city of Toledo could cover any of the United Way s costs in keeping the building standing, and said his role was to be more of a cheerleader for the value of saving the one-of-a-kind structure.

Mr. Kitson said the United Way s decision is about finances. No one has come forward with a viable plan to buy or save the building, he said.

Truly, we are losing money [on the building] every single day, he said. That is real.

Contact Kate Giammarise at:kgiammarise@theblade.comor 419-724-6133.



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