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East Toledo’s Masonic Temple, vacant for decades, will soon be senior apartments

Posted By: The Toledo Blade on July 2, 2022.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

It’s the second big project by ARK, which also turned the old Wonder Bread bakery into housing

East Toledo’s former Masonic Temple has sat vacant for at least two decades, a fact that would be easy to guess given its chipped brick facade, broken windows, and dust-caked interior.

But over the next two years, Ambrea and Kevin Mikolajczyk, owners of Toledo’s ARK Restoration & Construction, hope to transform the four-story historic structure into 42 affordable senior apartments, with services such as a barbershop, salon, and ​possibly a ​medical clinic on the ground floor.

The couple acquired the building at 401 Main St. from the Lucas County Land Bank in May. Workers were knocking down walls and hauling out old wood on a recent morning.

“It’s actually in really good shape,” Mrs. Mikolajczyk said as she walked around the darkened first floor of the 60,000-square-foot property. “I know it looks kind of crazy, but it’s solid, there’s not a lot of rain damage, a lot of water everywhere.”

The Mikolajczyks took on a complicated historic building overhaul like this before, in a similarly struggling part of the city. In 2017 they bought the former Wonder Bread bakery in the Vistula neighborhood, northeast of downtown.

Late last year they finished renovating it into 33 apartments, with seven designated as affordable units. It’s now full with tenants, Mrs. Mikolajczyk said, including several who moved there from the suburbs and outside the state.

“We found a niche in historic buildings because they’re dirty, they’re nasty, they’re complex, and not a lot of people want to do them,” she said.

As it did with the Wonder Bread project, ARK hopes to lean on a complicated mix of funding for the $13 million Masonic Temple job — including low-income housing and historic tax credit assistance, federal HOME money administered by the city, bond gap financing through the state, and traditional financing. It recently obtained a $425,000 loan from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to get the project off the ground.

Mrs. Mikolajczyk said city officials approved the building’s historic designation, but state leaders have not yet signed off, which is required to win the tax credit assistance.

The goal is to open the new senior apartments by late 2024, Mr. Mikolajczyk said, though it could be longer due to how long some tax credit awards take for approval.

Furniture stores and Freemasonry

The building opened in 1913. It hosted various large gatherings of Freemasons over the decades, including the Great East Toledo Masonic Parade in the late 1980s, according to The Blade’s archives.

On the ground floor in the early years was Finkbeiner’s Furniture, run by former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s grandfather. Another furniture store moved into the space until the 1960s, and a music store was also located there for a time, Mrs. Mikolajczyk said. The basement was home to a bowling alley and boxing gym over the years.

The Yondota Masonic Building Company sold the building in 2004 to Budget Real Estate Inc. for $242,000. Sometime after that it started to “fully fall apart,” said David Mann, the Lucas County Land Bank’s president and chief executive officer, who noted it changed hands several more times before the land bank took control in 2020.

The land bank sold the building to ARK for $10,000, Mr. Mann said. As part of the deal the developer must meet a number of conditions and deadlines as it works to eventually house seniors.

“The neighbors are very excited, and they’re excited because ARK is keeping the history of the building,” said Councilman Theresa Gadus, who represents East Toledo.

She said the city — especially East Toledo — needs more affordable housing for seniors. Toledo’s 10-year housing plan, adopted last year, noted more than a third of the city’s seniors are cost-burdened. And much of the city’s existing housing options for them are old and low-quality.

Many nearby storefronts on Main Street remain shuttered. But Ms. Gadus said she hopes the Masonic Temple remodel — and several other recent developments along the street, including a new art gallery — shows that the downtown revitalization of recent years is ready to spread east across the Maumee River.

Vistula makes a comeback

The nearby Vistula neighborhood is making a comeback thanks in part to the redone 82,000 square-foot Wonder Bread building.

“Not too long ago, there was nothing there on that main corridor,” Mrs. Mikolajczyk said of North Summit Street, which cuts through the neighborhood. “Now, to have people there in daily life, and walking their dogs, and coming out and talking to one another, or riding their scooters down to Toledo Spirits or TolHouse, and really engaging with the neighborhood, is really special.”

One of those new Vistula residents is Rhonda Sewell, who moved into a large two-bedroom at Wonder Bread in February. The 55-year-old director of belonging and community engagement at the Toledo Museum of Art lived for years in a large home in the Sylvania area.

But when her twin daughters moved out a few years ago, she knew “now was really the time to contemplate that long dream of moving downtown.” The hot housing market also helped her decide to sell.

“I joke with people and say, ‘I’m now a downtown hipster,'” Ms. Sewell said, adding that the building’s residents — who call themselves the “Wonder kids” — include a range of ages and backgrounds.

She likes exploring downtown’s restaurants, and is close enough to Oregon for her grocery shopping needs.

“When you think of downtown development, early planners around the country thought of millennials as the draw to revitalize their downtowns and to bring new life and energy,” Ms. Sewell said. “But what they found was all ages are attracted to this reimagining.”

In Toledo, reimagining neighborhoods means fixing up many more old, sometimes crumbling buildings — difficult work which the Mikolajczyks said they hope to make their specialty.

“I love to take the biggest [building] on the block, renovate it, and see what that sparks,” Mrs. Mikolajczyk said. “It typically ends up being a catalyst for more things to come.”

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