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Land bank picks Cincinnati developer to overhaul two Toledo ‘skyscrapers’

Posted By: Toledo Blade on January 11, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

The Lucas County Land Bank on Wednesday chose a Cincinnati developer that it hopes will eventually transform two of downtown Toledo’s oldest and largest office buildings — the Spitzer and Nicholas — into hundreds of apartments and ground-level commercial spaces.

The land bank’s board of directors unanimously backed The Model Group, which teamed up with Toledo’s ARK Restoration & Construction to offer a redevelopment proposal for the two crumbling buildings which have stood vacant for years.

The land bank bought the properties in 2020 and last summer it began a hunt for developers who might be willing to overhaul them. It ultimately received eight proposals — including several from developers based outside Ohio — to reimagine the 11-story Spitzer and 17-story Nicholas buildings, considered two of downtown’s original skyscrapers.

The buildings combine 500,000 square feet and are part of Four Corners, the intersection of Madison Avenue and Huron Street, where all four original buildings remain.

“We still have a lot of work left to do, but the opportunity we put out to the world was to think about how to convert these former office buildings into a mix of uses that would return more people to this part of downtown, to enhance a street-level vibrancy that we really need and we sort of lack right now, and to catalyze other development in downtown,” said David Mann, the land bank’s president and chief executive.

Land bank officials will now enter negotiations with The Model Group and ARK about details of the buildings themselves and how the public-private financing will pencil out.

It’s not yet clear if the developer will outright own the properties, or if the land bank will continue to own them even after they are overhauled, but public funds are expected to play a central role in the projects regardless.

If all goes to plan with negotiations, officials said at the Wednesday meeting that they hope construction can begin in 2024.

Mr. Mann pointed to The Model Group’s experience on similarly difficult redevelopment projects, like the Dayton Arcade and a project called The Landing in Fort Wayne. ARK is best known for turning the old Wonder Bread bakery in Toledo’s Vistula neighborhood into apartments, and more recently laid out plans to overhaul the old Masonic Temple in East Toledo.

Bobby Maly, Model’s CEO, said in a statement he views the project as a “generational opportunity” for Toledo and praised the land bank, city, and ConnecToledo for their efforts on the project.

ARK President Ambrea Mikolajczyk said the team’s plans call for nearly 400 apartments and 40,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial space.

“Now it’s just getting in the room and ironing out details,” she said.

Officials also said Wednesday the Model and ARK proposal offered the best mix of potential financing options that would make the project feasible. Such creative financing is necessary to help cover what will likely be a more than $175 million project. The developers pledged to use union labor on the projects.

“The Model Group, in particular, has the most experience with the widest range of tax incentives, credits, equity investments, and other tools that are available, particularly in Ohio, and we might need every single one of them in order to make this successful,” Mr. Mann said.

If an agreement can’t be reached with Model and ARK in the coming months, land bank officials and board members agreed they had a solid backup plan with the RKP Group of Lansing, owned by Kevin Prater, another developer that had showed interest in the buildings. Officials had also considered a third possible developer, J. Jeffers & Co. of Milwaukee.

Local leaders say redevelopment of the buildings — and a third vacant building on Four Corners called Nasby, which is owned by Mr. Prater — will be critical for any larger downtown revitalization to take place. Work has not yet begun on the Nasby Building. The last building of Four Corners is occupied by Huntington Bank.

Beyond remodeling the buildings themselves, officials said Wednesday other major changes will need to come to the Four Corners area, including finding more parking for future residents, and transforming the streets nearby, to place less focus on cars.

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