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Published: Monday, 10/11/2010

Habitat seeks new home of own after fire

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The blaze nearly destroyed ReStore, the Habitat for Humanity of the Maumee Valley's home-goods store, and damaged offices. The blaze nearly destroyed ReStore, the Habitat for Humanity of the Maumee Valley's home-goods store, and damaged offices.
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An organization that works to provide shelter for needy families is homeless itself and looking to relocate temporarily after a fire caused at least $200,000 damage to its South Toledo headquarters.

Habitat for Humanity of the Maumee Valley was displaced Sunday afternoon by a fire that caused heavy smoke damage to its administrative offices and nearly destroyed ReStore, a home-goods thrift shop that sells donated furniture, appliances, hot water heaters, and building supplies at 223 South Fearing Blvd.

Fire investigators have not determined the cause of the blaze, Toledo Fire Battalion Chief Christine Davis said.

Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said the shuttered South Toledo Y site should be saved from demolition to provide a place for Habitat for Humanity to settle. Some Toledo City Council representatives disagreed, saying the building would require expensive renovations to prepare for a tenant.

"I just can't see how anyone would think that wouldn't be a superb location for Habitat for Humanity," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Mr. Finkbeiner suggested that the organization should recruit volunteers to help rehabilitate the former recreation center.

"It seems to me a lot of people have not been as thoughtful as I wish that they had been about the revitalization of that old South Toledo Y. To abandon it was a mistake from the beginning," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "Having Habitat for Humanity there, I think, would give new life to that stretch of land."

Councilman D. Michael Collins, whose district includes the South Toledo Y site, said the Erie Street Market might be a better temporary place for Habitat for Humanity to set up shop. Repairing the Y building would be expensive and time-consuming, costing between $60,000 and $100,000 to repair a faulty sewer hookup.

Jorge Duran, left, and Dylan Dunbar remove fire-damaged supplies from Habitat for Humanity's office on South Fearing. The blaze broke out Sunday and caused at least $200,000 in damage. Jorge Duran, left, and Dylan Dunbar remove fire-damaged supplies from Habitat for Humanity's office on South Fearing. The blaze broke out Sunday and caused at least $200,000 in damage.
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"Though I respect former Mayor Finkbeiner and applaud him for his vision, I do not see the financial feasibility of making that happen," Mr. Collins said.

The 56-year-old South Toledo Y building was closed in December, despite the aggressive effort of area residents to recruit members and raise funds to save the recreational center.

City Council voted Aug. 31 to accept the 4.1-acre site of the South Toledo Y at Woodsdale Park after the structure is razed. The building and parking lot are scheduled to be removed by the end of the year, Todd Tibbits, YMCA president and chief executive officer, has said.

Mr. Tibbits was unavailable for comment Monday.

It would be up to the YMCA to decide whether to allow a temporary tenant in the South Toledo Y building because the City of Toledo won't take ownership of the property until the building is razed, city spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said.

YMCA spokesman Rob Thomas said in a prepared statement: "The YMCA has not been contacted by any Habitat for Humanity representatives. The YMCA formalized an agreement with the City of Toledo to convert the property to green space, and is diligently working to complete that process. Our thoughts and prayers are with the good people of Habitat For Humanity."

Councilman Rob Ludeman said there are plenty of commercial sites that would be more appropriate than the Y for the organization, because the former recreation center is zoned for residential use. He has suggested that the site could be used for a dog park.

Councilman Mike Craig, whose district borders the South Toledo Y site, suggested that industrial property owned by the Lucas County Port Authority near Front Street in East Toledo could work for Habitat for Humanity. He said he wouldn't oppose offering city property to the organization temporarily at little or no cost.

"Anything the city has that is vacant or open, I'd be willing to discuss at least for a temporary home," Mr. Craig said.

An area architectural firm was fielding calls forwarded from the Habitat offices, as the fire continued to smolder late Monday afternoon.

The damage means the organization will not serve new clients through the home repair ministry program until next week. The organization hopes to identify a temporary location by Thursday, Marilyn Jensen, Habitat for Humanity development director, said.

"Right now, financial donations would be a huge help," Ms. Jensen said. "So many people called and offered to help to find a place, to drop off food. The community outpouring has been awesome."

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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