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As Collingwood church goes for sale, sticky problem of church redevelopment remains

Posted By: The Toledo Blade on April 10, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

To Charles Madrigal, owning a home or a building of any kind in Toledo’s Old West End requires a certain kind of person.

“We buy these houses and you get in there and it is always two or three or four or five times more work and money than you budgeted in your mind and actual bank account for,” Mr. Madrigal said.

With that warning in mind, the former Church of the Living God, located at 2158 Collingwood Blvd., was listed for sale recently by Beal Properties, the real estate firm based in Ypsilanti that has owned the building since 2021.

The 16,000-square-foot structure, with its tall Ionic column-lined entryway that gives it the appearance of a courthouse or monument, dates back to 1921 when it was constructed by the firm of Edward Green, known for its Greek Revival buildings like the Toledo Museum of Art’s main building.

It was the home of the Second Church of Christ, Scientist for several decades, and it was last fully operational under its Church of the Living God moniker, which is still emblazoned on the building, from 1995 to 2013.

Beal Properties and its owner Stewart Beal, who bought the property for $129,000 from two Canadian developers in 2021 and is now listing the building for $500,000, did not respond to a request for comment.

A Facebook post from March 15 on Beal Capital’s official page notes that the building was shown to a developer who had an interest in turning the facility into a wedding venue.

“This will be a huge developmental project, to whomever is ready to take this beast on!” the post says.

Mr. Beal then reposted the listing on his personal Facebook page Wednesday.

Mr. Madrigal, a member of the Old West End preservation committee, lives catty-corner to the structure and noted the work Beal has done to keep up the exterior of the building.

“He cleaned up the parking lot, which was kind of a mess,” Mr. Madrigal said. “He really has maintained the outside of the property, which to me is the biggest thing because it is not a nuisance now. There is not trash or overgrown trees or weeds. Unless you live in the neighborhood, you would not know that it is not a viable building.”

The building is said to contain a great hall with a sloping floor and auditorium-style seating for up to 600, along with several adjoining offices.

The building’s basement is said to have a history of water problems, Mr. Madrigal said, emphasizing that the prospect that not much was done to the inside of the building over the last few years is not a good one to think about.

“That is a real problem perception-wise for the neighborhood,” Mr. Madrigal said. “If he is not going to do something with it, no one is going to invest half a million dollars and then drop another million or two or three or four. I have heard just the organ needs a million dollars worth of work.”

Still, Mr. Madrigal, who said he had a pleasant conversation with Mr. Beal recently about using one of his parking lots for the upcoming Old West End Festival, said he feels like the possibility for something great still exists at the location.

“It has been done in other cities,” he said. “I think it could be almost like what they are doing at the Jefferson Center, maybe with small boutique businesses or restaurants. The area could support another restaurant very easily.”

Sue Postal, a leader on the Old West End preservation committee, also pointed out the unique nature of the Old West End, which is historic but largely residential. That could make the fit of what goes into the Collingwood location a little trickier. She said this is different from other cities like Milwaukee or Columbus which have historic districts but more businesses mixed in.

Even the Vistula neighborhood of North Toledo has more commercial properties mixed in with historic homes, she pointed out.

“Ultimately, it is about finding new ways to utilize structures that will benefit the community they sit in,” Ms. Postal said. “It is going to be about investors and bringing money into the city. There are people who have money who want to invest, but we have to get their attention and get them to come here and not want to tear something down and build something new.”

Ms. Postal posited that the neighborhood needs someone to swoop in, as the Old West End itself and its namesake association and preservation committee do not have the money to renovate themselves.

These challenges are ones that Lindsay Webb knows as well.

Ms. Webb, Lucas County treasurer and board member at the Lucas County Land Bank, has been a leader in the Land Bank’s development project at St. Anthony Catholic Church in West Toledo, ongoing since that century-old structure was threatened by the wrecking ball in 2018.

“When a community sets about redeveloping a church into a new and exciting use, there has to be community support behind it, and likely public resources in addition to private investment,” Ms. Webb said.

Ms. Webb said St. Anthony’s has had its own challenges, but recently Congressman Marcy Kaptur secured a $4 million federal grant to help with the mechanicals inside the building, engaged firms to secure the building’s mammoth steeple, and mull over potential uses, as well as engage the community in seeing what they would like to have done to the property.

In sum, the treasurer said the project is still making baby steps toward completion, but that has not been without help from a variety of sectors and a lot of public money invested just to make sure the building has all the basic necessities. She said the Collingwood property could go down the same path.

“There are a lot of churches that have gone vacant over the years,” she said, noting that overall the processes through which these churches become vacant, and their aftermath have similarities and differences. “They are delinquent on their taxes then they go to foreclosed. Sometimes no one bids at the sheriff’s sale because most reasonable investors would understand this is an expensive problem, there are challenges associated with the building, etc.”

Ms. Webb mentioned another vacant church, St. Hedwig, in North Toledo that was sold for five figures and has been going through a process of having its parts and pieces moved to different places around the city and country over the last few years.

“Now it is a worse problem than it was when the auditor sold it at the forfeited land sale,” she said. “I do not want to see that happen.”

Some European cities like Stockholm even have commissions that deal exclusively with the decommissioning of old churches, she said.

Nevertheless, while Toledo may not have the resources for such a commission as that, Ms. Webb said the Collingwood property has many attractive features.

“I think that the Church of the Living God is on a prime corner in the Old West End,” she said. “It would be ripe for redevelopment as a coffee shop or a brewery or what have you. But a $500,000 price point probably does not take into account the amount of investment that would need to be made to transform the church into a new and exciting thing.

“Churches have great histories and they are landmarks and they are beautiful,” Ms. Webb said. “If a neighborhood and a developer can come together with an idea about a reuse, I love that idea and I would want to assist in any way that we could.”

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