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Published: Tuesday, 9/15/2009

Lights out, doors shut at Nicholas Building in downtown Toledo

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The last tenant of an historic downtown office building moved out Monday morning, leaving another dark, empty hulk on what had been the crossroads of Toledo's central business district.

Toledo Edison turned off the power yesterday afternoon at the 17-story Nicholas Building, which has stood on the northwest corner of Huron Street and Madison Avenue since 1905. The landmark building — once host to more than 5,000 workers and an estimated 10,000 daily visitors — was an ancestral home to some of Toledo's largest local companies: Owens-Illinois Inc., Owens-Corning, and the former Libbey-Owens-Ford.

The building's owner, Ergur Private Equity, run by West Coast real estate investor Koray Ergur, failed to pay its electric bills, and is seeking a buyer, a local representative said. The firm had notified the building's few tenants on Sept. 4 that power soon would be turned off and they would have to vacate. During the weekend, many worked long hours to do just that.

“This is absolutely crazy,” said Peggy Green, who worked for a group of seven lawyers in a suite of offices on the 15th floor. Ms. Green and her co-workers found office space Friday afternoon in the Secor Building a few blocks away, and spent the weekend packing boxes and moving the office.

“We're still not unpacked,” Ms. Green said yesterday, a tinge of disgust in her voice. “For all the money that people shelled out to fix up their offices, and now they lose it all and have to start over.”

Toledo Edison spokesman Ellen Raines refused to discuss how much was owed, but indicated that the utility “had no other options” because the building's owner lacked the ability to make good on the debt.

The owners' representative yesterday would not say if the firm will be able to winterize the structure to prevent the kind of plumbing system damage that occurred at downtown Toledo's Fiberglas Tower.

Bill Thomas, senior vice president of operations for Ergur's Toledo division, said his employer is trying to “find someone with deep pockets” to purchase the building, as well as the neighboring Spitzer Building, which Ergur also owns.

“But here in mid-September, I just don't know what the future holds for those buildings,” Mr. Thomas said.

Megan Robson, a spokesman for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, was unsure if the city of Toledo would step in to prevent damage to the building if the owner fails to act before winter.

When it was constructed, the now-vacant building was the tallest building in Ohio at 192 feet, and was one of the city's first structures with a steel skeleton. But the Nicholas Building's tall steel frame hides a hidden, ancient secret below ground: It rests on 1,200 oak logs driven into the ground as a base for the columns that support the structure. It is the same method used by ancient Roman builders to construct buildings on marshy ground.

The building cost $610,631 to build — equivalent to about $14.5 million today, and the first tenants moved in during September, 1906.

Attorney Beau Harvey, who filed suit last week against Ergur seeking to stop the power shutoff and the forced termination of his lease, said the emergency relocation of his offices during the weekend “is going to be a customer relationship nightmare.”

He and his fellow attorneys scoured the downtown area all of last week, “in a mad rush looking at everything and anything just to know what possibilities there were, and then jumping on one of the options,” Mr. Harvey said. “My phones are still off, and our clients would have no idea what was going on. We're going to have to explain it.”

Karen Fraker, a spokesman for Fifth-Third Bank, said the bank's ground-floor branch office had been serving customers continuously since Sept. 1, 1954 — although operating under many different names over that period.

Over the summer, safety deposit box customers at the Nicholas Building branch were asked to relocate to another Fifth-Third branch.

Those who did so were given two years of free box rent at the new location, Ms. Fraker said.

With safety deposit boxes no longer in use, the bank was able to cease operations on Thursday and remove its furnishings and equipment Friday, Ms. Fraker said.

“We did in three days what normally takes us three months to do,” Ms. Fraker added. Fifth-Third is searching for a site for a new branch near the closed office at Huron and Madison.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:lvellequette@theblade.comor 419-724-6091.



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