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Published: Tuesday, 3/23/2010

Toledo City Council majority say they'll OK razing of former United Way building

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A majority of Toledo City Council members plan to deny an appeal filed Monday against the demolition permit granted this month for the United Way's former headquarters downtown.

Fred Kutz of East Toledo, a former City Council candidate, Monday appealed the Toledo Plan Commission's 3-2 vote on March 11, which granted the nonprofit agency approval to tear down the 41-year-old building bordered by Superior, Jackson, and Summit streets. Council must vote on the appeal within 45 days.

Mr. Kutz, a member of the Toledo 20/20 Land Use Implementation committee, said he was not convinced council would allow the building to be razed.

“I thought the decision by the plan commission was the wrong decision,” Mr. Kutz said after filing his appeal with council. “I thought there would have been more public outrage about this other than [Councilman] Joe McNamara.”

Mr. McNamara, along with Toledo architect Paul Sullivan, joined preservationists in calling for a six-month reprieve for the building.

On the opposite side of the issue are councilmen Wilma Brown, Mike Ashford, Rob Ludeman, Lindsay Webb, Tom Waniewski, D. Michael Collins, Adam Martinez, and Mike Craig, who said they would vote in favor of demolition.

Seven votes are needed to approve the demolition request.

“United Way needs all the money it has right now to serve its clients,” said Mr. Craig, chairman of council's zoning and planing committee. “You could mothball that building for years before you could get someone who would want to reuse it.”

Julie Gibbons, assistant clerk of council, said council's zoning and planning committee would formally hear the appeal on April 14 and the full council could vote on it during its April 27 regular meeting.

The plan commission voted in favor of demolition earlier this month after more than 90 minutes of discussion, debate, and public comments.

Mr. Craig said the council committee meeting could also attract a lot of people interested in the issue.

United Way of Greater Toledo officials say the building is a financial drain on the nonprofit's resources and insisted every reasonable effort was made to find interested buyers.

The former Community Services building at One Stranahan Square opened in 1969. The six-story, 100,000-square-foot structure was vacated by the United Way in October, when the agency moved into an adjacent new and smaller $4.9 million headquarters.

Bill Kitson, United Way's president and chief executive officer, said the delay will cost the agency more money. “In a time when our community needs to be focusing on education, income, and health, United Way will once again have to make its case to yet another public body as to why it needs to complete its revitalization project in the manner stated nearly two years ago,” Mr. Kitson said.

“We are obviously disappointed that as private property owners, we have to wait yet another 45 days to save our organization and our community thousands of dollars that could be helping real people.”

During the March 11 plan commission meeting, Mr. Kitson said he opposed the suggested six-month delay as it would burden his agency with $100,000 of upkeep expenses and affect funding to other nonprofit agencies that help the needy.

The United Way says that keeping the building has cost more than $200,000 a year. The agency's most recent cost estimate for renovation was $10.3 million.

The United Way plans to replace the leveled building with a park.

Years down the road, the park could be sold to a developer and built upon, with proceeds benefiting the agency's nonprofit mission.

Council President Wilma Brown, who at one time worked in the building, said she supported demolition because the building has poor air quality and because the Stranahan family does not oppose its destruction.

“The building has to be torn down because there is too much that has to be done in it and it is not historical,” Ms. Brown said.

“And if the Stranahan family does not have a problem with it being torn down, I can't see why anyone else should.”

But Mr. Kutz said it would be a major loss for downtown Toledo.

“A 3-2 vote on a plan commission means you ought to go back to the drawing board and reconsider what you are going for,” he said. “That's poor planning to put a park there and to take a building that is unique and has character — you just don't tear it down.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at:imessina@theblade.comor 419-724-6171.



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