Housing construction booms in Toledo

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

When 77-year-old Bob Swartout was looking to move to a new, smaller house, he didn’t want to leave Toledo and head for the suburbs.

“I’d rather be around where things are happening,” he said. “When you’re on the outskirts, you’ve got a ways to go to get anywhere.”

Instead, Mr. Swartout and his wife, Phyllis, soon will be moving into Glengate, Toledo’s newest single-family housing development at Glendale and Detroit avenues.

“When I heard it was being built in the city, that was enticing,” said Mr. Swartout, a retired Toledo building inspector.

City officials are thrilled to see developers interested in building within the city limits. And they expect 1999 to be a banner year for new Toledo housing.

The city projects that 990 housing units will be opened in Toledo this year, more than twice the 1998 total and more than 15 times the number five years ago.

“The numbers have really gone up, and there is a very strong interest in living in the city limits,” said Deborah Younger, the city’s acting housing commissioner.

Most of that growth will be in a few large projects, such as the Commodore Perry Apartments and the Hillcrest Apartments. Those two buildings are a major part of the city’s downtown redevelopment plans. Each will feature more than 100 units when renovations are completed this year.

But the growth has spread to smaller projects by community development corporations, and subdivision developments such as Glengate.

Glengate will feature 52 single-family homes, which will sell from $140,000 to $160,000 each. Cavalear Corp. of Sylvania is the developer on the $8 million project.

“We wanted to have something for the market of people currently living in Toledo who don’t want to move to the suburbs,” said Ray Henderson, Cavalear’s sales manager. “It’s for people who don’t want to drive 20 miles to get a gallon of milk.”

Cavalear bought the 16-acre site from the city of Toledo a year ago for $425,000. At the time, the site was being used as a soccer field.

Mr. Henderson said he expects the homes to be sold primarily to retirees and physicians from the neighboring Medical College of Ohio.

About half of the 52 homes should be completed by the end of 1999, he said, with the remainder to be finished by fall, 2000.

Mr. Swartout and his wife were the first to buy at Glengate. With their children grown, they wanted to move out of their Darlene Street home and into a smaller place.

Mr. Swartout considered a new home in Monclova Township but decided “that was just too far away.”

Ms. Younger said that more and more people are thinking that way and choosing city life over suburbia.

Although much of the increase in new city housing stock can be attributed to a strong economy that is creating more Toledo jobs, she said a lifestyle choice is involved.

“There’s a revived interest in living in an urban center,” she said. “People are tired of driving. They want to be closer to the heart of the city, where the activity is.”

The numbers bear her out. In 1994, only 60 housing units opened in the city. That total has risen steadily ever since, to 409 last year.

Last week, work began on 49 homes just north of downtown. Rather than carving a subdivision out of a field, the new homes will be integrated into the NorthRiver neighborhood, Toledo’s oldest.

They will be rented to low and moderate-income families by the NorthRiver Development Corp.

Many of those homes are being built in the holes left by the city’s demolition program, which has razed 1,422 abandoned buildings since 1994, including 314 last year.

“That has helped the numbers a lot,” Ms. Younger said. “Obviously, our challenge for 2000 and beyond will be to replicate or increase those numbers.”

The Glengate deal stirred up controversy a year ago that led to a personnel change at city hall. After the city announced it would sell the land to Cavalear, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner learned of a supposed deed restriction on the property that prevented it from being sold to a private developer.

Angered by the apparent mistake, Mr. Finkbeiner cut the pay of five city officials he considered responsible.

The biggest pay cut fell on then-housing commissioner James Thurston, whose annual salary was chopped $2,000.

Disgusted by what he considered the mayor’s overreaction to “a manageable problem,” Mr. Thurston quit.

A week later, further analysis showed that the supposed deed restriction did not exist, and no hurdles prevented selling the land. Mr. Finkbeiner eventually reinstated the salaries of the four remaining city employees.

But Mr. Thurston did not return. Ironically, he did much of the development work – on projects such as the Commodore Perry and the Hillcrest – that should make 1999 a great year for Toledo housing.

Since then, the housing department has been managed by acting commissioners.