Peter Hatas, who rescued a goose in January, 2009, is a homeless engineer who wants to turn the St. James Hotel into low-income apartments for veterans. He has received support from key officials.
Mr. Hatas went public on Feb. 7 with his plan to convert North Toledo's St. James Hotel and an adjoining building at Lagrange and Summit streets into a multipurpose facility that includes 35 low-income apartments for vets, a soup kitchen large enough to serve 400 people, a corner market, thrift shop, and jobs kiosk.
The first task at hand was raising a little more than $75,000 to acquire the St. James. The adjoining building was being offered for only $2.
Within days, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, and Ohio Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) got behind the project. Miss Kaptur and Mr. Finkbeiner were in Washington seeking support for it from federal officials last Monday and Tuesday.
Toledo Planning Director Calvin Lawshe called it an intriguing concept. Former corporate attorney Dean Weaver offered to serve on its board of directors, as did Debbie Vas, executive director of the Toledo Seagate Food Bank. Toni Battle Gaines, co-owner of the Scarlett Secor Mansion in North Toledo and a former advertising sales manager with the Los Angeles Times, came forward with professional services.
The project apparently has low-cost muscle ready to go. Mr. Hatas said he could mobilize teams of unemployed skilled laborers overnight, people he's met on the street who just want to work. Adding to that has been several offers for in-kind donations, including an offer of help with electrical work that came to Mr. Hatas in an e-mail from an electrician at FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse nuclear plant and some of his co-workers. The owner of a local coffee shop wants to donate 150 chairs, Mr. Hatas said.
Terry Glazer, chief of United North, says 'We're not against housing for the homeless, but we already had a deal.'
At a Feb. 26 fund-raiser -- the only one Mr. Hatas has held to date -- multiple donations were collected. Mr. Cauffiel, a jet-setting businessman who has designed and built many plants worldwide to produce aluminum and steel, told Mr. Hatas that day to come see him at his office on a Monday. There, Mr. Cauffiel wrote out a $20,000 check for an escrow account established by Mr. Hatas' nonprofit, the Homeless and Travelers Assistance Services Corp.
Three people -- Mr. Hatas, Mr. Cauffiel, and Mr. Finkbeiner -- have told The Blade that a railroad company is expected to pledge at least $25,000.
Mr. Hatas also said he's been encouraged by the responses he's received from a variety of business and labor groups, while Mr. Cauffiel told The Blade he plans to contact some "very successful friends" to join him in helping Mr. Hatas with the project.
So when his purchase agreement for the St. James expired on Feb. 28, Mr. Hatas was off to an impressive start -- but he didn't have all $75,000 in hand to close the deal.
The building's owner, the American Maritime Officers, of Dania Beach, Fla., the nation's largest union of merchant marine officers, has thus far rejected Mr. Hatas' pleas for another 30-day extension.
"We had given him a couple of extensions," Jose Leonard, the national secretary-treasurer of the maritime union, said. "At this point, we don't know what we're doing."
Peter Hatas stands in a second-floor hall of the St. James Hotel at Lagrange and North Summit streets. The deadline to close the deal has passed and the owner, the American Maritime Officers, isn't sure it will grant Mr. Hatas an additional 30-day extension.
"But again, we reached the deadline," he said.
Complicating the would-be transaction is long-standing interest in the property from a community development corporation known as United North, a hybrid of the former North River Development Corp. and Lagrange Street Development Corp.
United North's chief operating officer, former Toledo Board of Education president Terry Glazer, said it's important for people to realize his group isn't against low-income housing for military veterans.
But Mr. Glazer said United North had its foot in the door of the St. James Hotel long before Mr. Hatas arrived.
"No one's trying to steal the building from this gentleman. If anything, we're the ones getting hurt by this," Mr. Glazer said. "We're not against housing for the homeless, but we already had a deal."
Mr. Hatas doesn't buy that explanation.
"I'm trying to do a good thing for the community and they're trying to smash me," Mr. Hatas said. "They don't realize I'm five or six steps ahead of them."
But what Mr. Hatas may not realize is United North's long-standing relationship with the building's owner and the community group's plans for the structure.
United North expects to spend $4 million to convert the St. James into a combination of apartments and stores, something that provides a face-lift while fitting into the Vistula neighborhood's historic ambience, Mr. Glazer said.
Fourteen years ago, in exchange for a federal urban development action grant it received to build One Maritime Plaza on Water Street in Toledo, the maritime union obligated itself per a U.S. government contract to compensate North River Development Corp. $2.5 million over 35 years, Mr. Glazer said.
The maritime union was allowed to use rental profits from the plaza to pay North River, if there were any. So far, that hasn't happened, Mr. Glazer said.
Though expenses at One Martime Plaza continue to exceed rental receipts, the maritime union remains obligated to North River Development, he said.
The maritime union, according to Mr. Glazer, sent North River a letter of intent several years ago agreeing to turn over the St. James, plus $100,000 and some nearby land along the Maumee River, if it could not fulfill its obligation.
Businessman Ford Cauffiel says he sees the need in the community for housing for veterans.
Mr. Glazer concedes that the letter of intent was nonbinding, but said it serves as proof of a prior understanding. United North obtained $35,000 from the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority for a predesign of a renovation it hoped to do someday, Mr. Glazer said.
On Feb. 25 -- the day before Mr. Hatas' fund-raiser and three days before he was scheduled to close on the St. James -- United North put in a bid for the hotel and vacant land along the Maumee River, an offer which Mr. Glazer said would absolve the maritime union's obligation to the neighborhood group.
The maritime union is weighing that offer against Mr. Hatas' plea for an additional 30 days.
"We're just sitting back and evaluating our options," Mr. Leonard said.
Mr. Cauffiel said he supports Mr. Hatas' project because he sees a need for helping vets and has faith in Mr. Hatas' engineering skills.
"All we're asking for is an extension. There's a substantial amount of money in escrow already. All he needs is a little more to push it over the top," Mr. Cauffiel said.
Mr. Glazer said United North is willing to help Mr. Hatas pursue his dream of opening a shelter for homeless vets. "The concept is a good concept, and we'd help him find another building. There are many available in the city that would be better than this building and less expensive to rehab."
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.