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Two of Toledo’s original ‘skyscrapers’ are finally ready for redevelopment

Posted By: The Toledo Blade on July 18, 2022.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

Toledo officials this week will formally start hunting for developers who want to transform the Spitzer and Nicholas buildings — two of downtown’s oldest and largest structures — into apartments, shops, or other uses.

The Lucas County Land Bank acquired the properties in 2020 and will release a request for development proposals on Monday. They are part of Four Corners, at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Huron Street, so named because it is the only downtown intersection where all four original buildings remain.

The two buildings have stood vacant for years, said David Mann, the land bank’s president and chief executive. Since the organization took control of them two years ago from a California developer who had let them fall into disrepair, it has worked with city officials, ConnecToledo, and others on a redevelopment plan.

The land bank recently released a 91-page feasibility study for the buildings, prepared by Cleveland’s Sandvick Architects at a cost of $75,000, paid for by the city. Now, officials will begin screening interested developers, and in the fall, they plan to narrow the field and request more specific plans.

The land bank’s board of directors could choose one or more winners by the end of the year.

“That corner has been a big, dark, vacant hole in downtown,” said ConnecToledo President Paul Toth, who will be involved in the developer selection process. “Being able to revitalize that corner will truly change the dynamics of everything that’s happening.”

Only one of the Four Corners is presently occupied, by Huntington Bank. Another corner, the Nasby Building, is now owned by Kevin Prater, a developer involved in several major Toledo projects.

City leaders view Four Corners as one of three “catalytic projects that we think will have ripple effects” and help bring downtown back to life, said Brandon Sehlhorst, Toledo’s economic development director. The other two are the $200 million Glass City Riverwalk, and the $30 million renovation of the Jefferson Center, which will become a tech business and training center, he said.

But enticing a developer or two to overhaul the 11-story Spitzer and 17-story Nicholas, combining 500,000 square feet, will be tricky, officials acknowledged, given their state of disrepair and the likely need to transform them from office space into mostly apartments.

Apartments are the most likely use, Mr. Sehlhorst said, because of the already huge amount of vacant office space downtown and surging demand for downtown living. Still, he noted Toledo rents are not as high as other cities, which makes it harder to attract investment.

The Spitzer’s layout would require smaller units and the building would likely maintain much of its original charm, said Joshua Murnen, the land bank’s senior vice president for real estate and general counsel. One idea outlined in the Spitzer feasibility study shows 185 apartments, plus retail, arts, and performance venue components.

The Nicholas might have a more modern flair, and a larger number of spacious two-bedroom units, Mr. Murnen said. The study suggested it could support features such as penthouses and a rooftop pool, as well as an airy glass-roof area for shopping and restaurants.

One of the biggest complications is that neither building has dedicated parking, Mr. Toth noted.

It’s unclear how an eventual development deal might be structured. One possibility is that the land bank could sell the buildings to a developer for cheap, subject to certain conditions. Or, it could retain ownership and lease the buildings to a developer, who would agree to carry out some of the remodeling work.

Mr. Toth, who has already discussed the buildings with developers, said it will likely require a public-private partnership, with both sides putting “some skin in the game.”

“It’s a challenging project, construction costs are high, we’re going to have to be creative and think out of the box,” he said.

Regardless of how a deal is structured, officials said it will rely heavily on state and federal historic tax credits and other government-backed funding assistance.

Mr. Mann said the goal is for construction to start in 2024, but he cautioned it will be a “multi-year endeavor” to bring both buildings back fully to life.

“We don’t have a choice here,” Mr. Toth said. “We have to figure out how to redevelop these, how to put them back into service.”

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