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Renaissance residents return to downtown Toledo apartments

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Rosemary Bailey, left, praises the Lord for her return to her apartment in the Renaissance, and friend Joe Matthews seems to agree. Thirty-three evacuated from the Valentine blast moved back in yesterday.

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The Renaissance Senior Apartments in downtown Toledo reopened yesterday to its displaced residents, more than six months after an early morning natural gas explosion in the adjoining Valentine Theatre forced everyone out.

Of the 67 residents evacuated, 33 are moving back in, filling 29 of the building's 54 units, said Troy Alexander, senior property manager.

Most of those not returning lived in the Renaissance group home, a 16-unit assisted-living facility on the second floor.

The building's owner, National Church Residences of Columbus, decided to close the group home primarily for financial reasons. All those residents have been relocated to similar state-licensed facilities, Patrick Higgins, a spokesman for National Church Residences, said.

"The financing for the group home was always struggling," Mr. Higgins said. "We had been subsidizing it for a number of years, and it was just no longer financially feasible."

The apartment building houses low and moderate-income residents age 55 or older. The vacant second-floor apartments soon will be put up for lease, he said.

The explosion at 419 North St. Clair St. happened at 1:30 a.m. Nov. 23 in the Valentine's basement. The cause is undetermined, but foul play has been ruled out.

The theater reopened in April following $3.5 million in repairs.

The Renaissance evacuees have spent the last six months with relatives or in temporary housing in other downtown apartment buildings, such as the Hillcrest or Commodore Perry apartments.

Resident Rosemary Bailey, 66, was overjoyed yesterday to return to her third-floor apartment after living in Detroit with her son, Bernard Pettis.

"I am so happy to be back home. Thank you, Jesus!" she exclaimed, while catching up with a neighbor, Joe Matthews.

Mrs. Matthews, 62, returned to her fourth-floor apartment yesterday, but is waiting until Friday to move back to the handicapped-accessible unit. Since the evacuation, she has lived in a nursing home and at Executive Towers on Collingwood Boulevard.

It feels good to be home," said Mrs. Matthews, who gets around in a motorized wheelchair. "I wasn't sure I was coming back, but my neighbors here are so sweet. It's like family."

Yesterday's return was the first of two phases in the building's reopening, Mrs. Alexander said.

The second phase involves rebuilding the lobby and dining area, which remains boarded up and off-limits. No timeline has been set for the work, she said.

"That whole room has got to come back the same way it was before the explosion, so that's going to take time," Mrs. Alexander said. "Our main goal was to get the residents back, which took long enough."

The original April move-in target for residents was deferred by inclement weather and delays in receiving almost 100 doors to replace those damaged by the blast and during the evacuation. Rescuers had to kick in the doors to make sure that all residents were out.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.

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