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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

United Way's plan to raze building ripped

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo City Councilman Joe McNamara yesterday criticized the United Way of Greater Toledo's plan to clear the land of its old headquarters building in order to eventually sell it to a future developer.

"There have been lots of buildings torn down with similar justifications, and that hasn't been good for the city of Toledo," Mr. McNamara, a Democrat, said at a news conference outside the former Community Services Building that's been vacant since October when the United Way moved into its new, smaller headquarters next door.

A demolition request for the 1969 building at One Stranahan Square goes before the Toledo Plan Commission this afternoon, just hours after Mr. McNamara's 10 a.m. presentation on the dangers and regrets of having a "tear-down mentality."

If and when the demolition request receives necessary approvals, the United Way says it will raze the building and replace it with a park - albeit a temporary park if the agency's long-term hopes come to fruition.

Bill Kitson, president and CEO of the United Way, said in an interview this week that clearing the site is a "community-friendly land banking opportunity."

If a developer would express interest in the park property, the agency could benefit financially by allowing the park to be built upon.

Revenue from such a deal would help support the United Way's nonprofit mission, he said.

"The value of the land the building occupies far exceeds what the building is worth," Mr. Kitson wrote in a first-person essay published Tuesday in The Blade. "It would be foolish, irresponsible to our donors, and shortsighted for us to sacrifice such a valuable asset."

But Mr. McNamara argued yesterday that the United Way could right away save $300,000 - the estimated demolition cost - if it gave the building away to an organization that could use it. And the agency could structure the deal so that a new owner couldn't backtrack and build a parking lot, the councilman said.

Harlan Reichle, senior managing director of the Toledo commercial realty firm CB Richard Ellis / Reichle Klein, said in an interview yesterday that the United Way's "land banking" strategy has some potential to pay off.

Although the vacancy rate for downtown commercial space is already high and "creeping up," a downtown tenant might decide on a new building with a unique configuration not found in existing building stock and opt to build on the United Way's cleared lot.

"That sort of thing happens," said Mr. Reichle, citing Owens Corning's move in the 1990s from downtown's Fiberglas Tower to a newly built campus on the nearby Middlegrounds.

Mr. Reichle said there was a 21 percent vacancy rate in December for "competitive office space that's in the market."

Standing with Mr. McNamara at his news conference was former United Way employee Toni Moore of West Toledo, who suggested several area nonprofit organizations might jump at an opportunity to occupy the old community services building if the United Way were to extend reasonable offers.

"This building was built for community services, and the United Way was given the responsibility of caretaker of this building, which they didn't do," said Mrs. Moore, who called the building beautiful. "I know a lot of people don't like the architecture of it, but I think it's really unique."

Mr. Kitson has been emphatic that the United Way made every effort to find a buyer for the building but to no avail. He said that keeping the building open costs more than $200,000 a year that the agency could use to help the needy.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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