Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018
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Real Estate

Lucas County Land Bank sells Pythian Castle

Developer plans retail, residential project

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The long vacant Pythian Castle – once a fraternal lodge for the Knights of Pythias that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – has been sold to a downtown developer who was also given enough money to replace the roof of the 126-year-old building.

The Lucas County Land Bank, which acquired the historic structure in 2013 through a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, sold it this week to David Ball for $300. A check for $247,300 was included in the sale deal for Mr. Ball to replace the roof and stabilize its tower - Gothic turrets that jut 185 feet into the downtown skyline.

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The Pythian Castle building, located on the corner of Jefferson and Ontario streets in Toledo, has been sold to a developer.

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Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, who is chairman of the property revitalization group, said Mr. Ball has three years to renovate the property or he will have to pay back that money.

“He has to produce a certificate of occupancy for the building from the city saying it is a habitable building,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “If he does, the $274,000 the land bank has given to put into a new roof is a grant, if he does not, it is a loan.”

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said taxpayers “are well-protected” under the deal and Mr. Ball has a good track record of developing buildings.

“This is a straight investment we are making and it is outside the typical operations of the Land Bank but we felt it was worth talking this risk because it is such an important building for the economic future of downtown,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “This will be a multimillion dollar investment.”

The land bank program is often associated with demolishing dilapidated structures in blighted areas. However, Mr. Kapszukiewicz said the acquisition of the building, along with the former Caesar's Show Bar across the street that was obtained by the land bank in February, 2013 and later transferred to developer IBC Inc., shows it can be an effective tool in redevelopment.

The Pythian Castle is seven years older than the existing Lucas County courthouse and offers one of the best views of the courthouse.

Renovation of the Pythian has been seen for decades as a potential catalyst for business. Developers have dreamed of restaurants and retail on the main floor, like some of downtown Chicago’s historic buildings.

Mr. Ball, the managing and sole member of Water Street Development, LLC, also owns the adjacent former Greyhound bus terminal and its parking lot.

“I really view the Pythian castle and the Greyhound as one project. You can't do one without the other,” Mr. Ball said. “The Pythian is, in my opinion, one of the coolest buildings downtown and the outside shell is in good shape but, If it had not been stabilized this winter, I don't know if it would survive.”

The tower is leaning to one side and could collapse, he said.

The one-of-a-kind castle on Jefferson Avenue and Ontario Street was built in 1890 by a highly secretive fraternal organization called the Knights of Pythias.

The building hasn’t had tenants since the 1970s. Pieces of it have, at times, fallen off the exterior and posed safety risks to pedestrians. In 1986, the city blamed the mere weight of pigeons for causing a metal cornice and gutter to come loose six floors high.

Mr. Ball bought the parking lot in 2002 and purchased the former Greyhound building at 807 Jefferson Ave. in September for $342,672.

Mr. Ball said the first through third floors of the castle would be commercial space and the fourth and fifth floors could be residential.

“We may have a single commercial user in the Greyhound building,” he said. “And, I have a 150-car parking lot right around the building.”

Mr. Ball has been involved in downtown for decades.

The 121-year-old Steam Plant downtown, formerly owned by Toledo Edison Co., was the city's property until it was handed over to Mr. Ball and James Jackson in 2005. The two planned to convert it to a rental and condominium complex. Mr. Ball and Mr. Jackson promised a $19.7 million development, and then-Mayor Jack Ford engineered a $300,000 contribution by the city. In the end, Mr. Ball and Mr. Jackson failed to proceed with that project. Mr. Jackson withdrew, leaving Mr. Ball owning the steam plant and trying to come up with a design that was economically viable and qualified for historic tax credits.

It sat empty for years until Mr. Ball sold it to ProMedica last year for $1.75 million. ProMedica is now renovating it into part of its new downtown headquarters.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.

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