The 17-story Nicholas Building was once a hub of activity and a financial stronghold of downtown Toledo.
But in 2009, just a year into a new ownership and on the year of its 105th anniversary as a downtown landmark, the building was shuttered.
Still vacant three years later, it is slowly crumbling from the inside out, and groundwater has flooded the basement because the pumps that formerly kept it dry are idle, the power having been cut off.
“It’s amazing how quickly a building deteriorates when it is empty,” said Patrice Spitzer who is seeking foreclosure on the structure.
Mold and mildew grow on walls in the basement, which is partially flooded with water on which an oily sheen shimmers on the surface. Other spots on the lower level are corroded and falling apart. Water damage has hit the building’s street level — once home to Fifth Third Bank.
The area where bank customers formerly made deposits or received cash is now home to chipping paint and peeled drywall.
“Look at this mess,” Mrs. Spitzer said Thursday as she walked through the building armed with a flashlight. “This is terrible.”
Down in the basement, Mrs. Spitzer didn’t venture into the flooded area and instead inspected it from the water’s edge, using her flashlight to peer into dark machine rooms, workshops, and storage areas.
“We had a very dry summer and the water is this high,” she said. “If we have a wet fall, the water will rise. ... My biggest concern is that this damage is going to cause irreparable harm to this building.”
Koray Ergur, owner of the Nicholas and the adjacent 10-story Spitzer Building, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Mrs. Spitzer accused Mr. Ergur of dragging out the foreclosure proceedings for both buildings, on which the Spitzer Building Co. is the first lien holder.
She asked a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge in August to order the landmark downtown Toledo buildings’ sale, saying that without immediate action, their deterioration would continue.
In her motion, Mrs. Spitzer listed several examples of neglect, including the electricity being shut off in the Nicholas Building in June, which deactivated its sump pump and allowed water to collect in the basement. The building has also not been heated in two years, creating “a flood condition in the building,” the motion stated.
Since buying the Nicholas Building for the rock-bottom price of $313,600, Ergur Private Equity Group LLC has never paid property taxes, and currently owes Lucas County $300,619.
Mr. Ergur bought the Spitzer Building in April, 2009, for $800,000. Unpaid taxes on that building total $130,579.
Lyman F. Spitzer, Mrs. Spitzer’s husband, who died of cancer on Jan. 10, 2011, at the age of 61, was principal owner of the Spitzer Building.
Before his death, he said the Ergur group made a down payment on the building and provided a promissory note for the remainder of the purchase price. But further payments were not made.
In 2009, the Spitzer family came to an arrangement with the Ergur Group. Essentially, it said if the Spitzers could find a buyer for either building, Mr. Ergur would sell. A sealed-bid auction in October, 2009, generated no acceptable offers.
At that time, Mr. Spitzer said he and other family members were “evaluating all of our options. Perhaps it may take a foreclosure or a receivership.” He vowed to “to do what is necessary” to protect the Nicholas Building.
In January, 2011, the Spitzer Building Co. filed a foreclosure action to reclaim the properties from the Ergur Group. The Spitzer Building Co. is seeking repayment of more than $800,000 in outstanding loans, interest, and incurred maintenance costs for the Spitzer Building, 520 Madison Ave.
The January foreclosure action alleged that the note has been in default since Feb. 13, 2010.
The company also filed suit against Ergur Group and Mr. Ergur seeking more than $300,000 in outstanding loans, interest, and incurred maintenance costs for the neighboring Nicholas Building, at 608 Madison.
Mr. Ergur, whose business is in the San Francisco Bay Area, has legal troubles besides the foreclosures.
He pleaded no contest in March to a misdemeanor charge related to unresolved violations of the city’s building code for fire alarm systems in the Spitzer Building.
Mr. Ergur has since failed to appear at multiple court dates, and Toledo Municipal Judge C. Allen McConnell subsequently issued an arrest warrant for him.
Bill Thomas, chief of Toledo’s downtown improvement district, is among the scores of people frustrated over the state of the Nicholas Building.
“That is the only corner downtown where we still have the original four buildings, and that is critical,” Mr. Thomas said. “It is the central point of our downtown core, and we need to save the Nicholas, Spitzer, and the Madison buildings. On the other corner you have Huntington Bank corporate headquarters, and they have always wanted to see that corner be revived.”
He sees no hope for the buildings under Mr. Ergur. “We are nearly through 2012, and he hasn’t spent a dime on real estate taxes, he is just kind of hiding out in California, and he hasn’t paid any money on the notes, plus he allowed the electricity to go out,” Mr. Thomas said. “It’s sucking the lifeblood out of downtown.”
Ideas have surfaced over the last year for the Nicholas and Spitzer buildings.
Last year, John Spitzer, Jr., vice president of the Spitzer Building Co., said an out-of-state developer he declined to name was interested in buying both structures.
Mr. Spitzer said the developer was “very well-capitalized and experienced in building restoration.”
In February, Ojibway Development LLC of Berkley, Mich., announced it had a contract to purchase the Nicholas and Spitzer buildings and planned to renovate the properties — turning the Spitzer into a mix of office, retail, and apartment units and the Nicholas Building into an “artist community” where creative people would live, work, and display their wares.
Ojibway Development also said it had to wait for foreclosure proceedings against the building’s current owner to be completed so it coud follow through with the purchase.
Toledo Deputy Mayor Paul Syring, the city’s top economic development official, said he wants to see the corner revitalized as well.
“We’d like [the Nicholas] to be occupied and a viable property in the heart of our downtown,” Mr. Syring said. “There have been discussions of it being converted into residential condominiums ... at the moment there doesn’t seem to be a demand or the finances available for a new buyer to enter the scene or a developer with the financial wherewithal.”
Like others, he thinks Mr. Ergur has been a bad landlord. “Based on my discussions with downtown civic leaders Mr. Ergur does not enjoy a reputation of diligence or competence, and I say that with due respect, but it’s a cold, hard fact,” Mr. Syring said.
The Nicholas Building is not alone downtown. The former Fiberglas Tower, the Berdan Building, the Feltman Building all are empty.
Across the street from the Nicholas at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Huron Street sits the city-owned Madison Building, also called the Nasby Building. It is vacant except for a Nick’s Barber Shop, operating with a small Madison Avenue storefront.
The city acquired the building a decade ago through a tax foreclosure.
“The Nasby Building has been remediated of asbestos and any environmental concern,” Mr. Syring said “The city retains ownership and it is for sale or redevelopment ... with a developer who has financial wherewithal and a solid marketing plan.”
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.