Hillcrest Hotel project called close to a deal

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

The Hillcrest Hotel near downtown Toledo is close to being renovated into apartments, city officials said yesterday.

“I believe it’s going to happen,” Neighborhoods Director Paul Hubbard said. “We’ve got about 85 per cent of the deal done.”

The Alexander Co., the Wisconsin-based developer that last year renovated the former Lasalle’s department store in downtown into the LaSalle Apartments, has agreed to convert the 69-year-old structure at Madison Avenue and 16th Street into about 100 units, at a cost of about $11 million.

The biggest sticking point: the city doesn’t own the building.

The Hillcrest is owned by Hillcrest Christian Center Group, Inc., and two of the three major investors in the group have agreed to turn over the building to the city at little or no cost.

But all three must be convinced to sell before The Alexander Co. can go ahead with renovations.

There also are several liens on the property, one of them for unpaid city taxes which the city is prepared to forgive. But another lien – a mortgage held by Mid American National Bank & Trust Co. – could pose a problem.

The bank has not yet agreed to give up its claim, which is for more than $100,000, Mr. Hubbard said. But he was optimistic that the issue would not be a problem.

“I do think we can work out something with MidAm,” he said. “We are talking at least once a week.”

Exactly what financial assistance the city would provide is still unclear.

Matt Meier, The Alexander Co.’s development project manager, said he would not comment on the project’s finances because of ongoing negotiations.

But earlier this week, the city’s housing commissioner, Jim Thurston, said the financial package is similar in structure to – but half the size of – the one approved by the city council Tuesday for the former Commodore Perry Hotel at Jefferson Avenue and Superior Street, which The Smallridge Co. of Toledo is turning into apartments.

The Alexander Co. submitted a proposal for the Commodore Perry, but was rejected.

In the Perry package, the city is issuing $17.7 million in municipal bonds, $10.2 million of that secured by the city. The total cost of renovating the Commodore Perry is estimated at $22 million.

The city council will have to approve the Hillcrest’s financial package, as well.

Legislation likely will be introduced at the council’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 20.

Jim Phillips, a city finance official, said the city may have to assemble a temporary financial package for that meeting and a permanent package at a later date.

Time is of the essence in the Hillcrest deal for several reasons, Mr. Hubbard said.

Much of the project will be funded through $6.2 million in tax-exempt bonds from the state of Ohio.

The city likely will be given notice today or early next week that the Hillcrest project has been funded, and the city must have a complete financial package assembled within two weeks of that notice.

The city still must find a bank willing to underwrite Toledo’s bond issue and filter through a mound of paperwork before several important deadlines in the next two months.

It also is important, Mr. Hubbard said, to keep the developer interested.

“We’re working on a tight deadline to keep Randy Alexander interested,” he said. “If we waste another week or two, it becomes awfully difficult. We have to move with all speed.”

The Alexander Co. is hoping to have the project completed by early next year. Mr. Hubbard said that is feasible.

An Alexander official said yesterday it was too early to determine how high rents would be at the Hillcrest.

In 1995, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner put the building on his list of “12 most offensive commercial and industrial properties” and called for its demolition.

But all 12 members of the council said they opposed the demolition, and the building remained standing, despite Mr. Finkbeiner’s statement at the time that demolition was “99 per cent certain.”