LORAIN — Concerns were raised following a public meeting regarding the Broadway Building’s future development Wednesday night.
“I’ve done some research, and I don’t know that I feel comfortable with where this project is yet,” Avon Lake resident Carrie Kress said. “There seems to be a lot of confusion as to where the tax credits are coming from, and if they’re going to (developer Jim) Louthen, the Port Authority or (former owner) Spitzer. I also don’t feel like I got a solid explanation as to when we would start getting to see the financial benefits — when will this start bringing in revenue for the city?”
The meeting, also attended by Safety-Service Director Dan Given and City Council President Joel Arredondo, was organized by Louthen, president of Chicago-based ReTown.
The former Spitzer Hotel, also known as the Broadway Building, shown in May 2015.
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ReTown recently entered into an agreement to lease the Broadway Building at the intersection of East Erie Avenue and Broadway from the Lorain Port Authority for two years in order to turn it into about 50 apartment units for people ages 55 and older.
Kress, 54, said she felt as though residents of Lorain and the surrounding communities haven’t gotten a clear picture of Louthen and what he can do as a developer, citing issues Louthen had with a planned development in Robbins, Ill.
According to a 2014 article in Chicago Magazine, Louthen was part of a Cook County sheriff’s investigation that found he was unfairly favored in a development contract with the village that ultimately fell through.
Kress, who recalled visiting the Broadway Building in her childhood to go bowling, said the public meeting Wednesday at City Hall didn’t yield any answers regarding the plans for the building — only designs.
“He just kept showing off pictures of the units, but there didn’t really seem to be a construction plan or anything like that, and I mean, that building has been empty for over 10 years,” she said. “It has to be in serious disrepair by now.
“It used to be such a beautiful building. I just am worried we’re focused too much on this and not on the rest of downtown Lorain.”
Given said he believed Louthen needed to host the meeting in order to get additional grant money and tax credits.
So far, Louthen and ReTown have received $440,203 in historic tax credits from the state but that doesn’t come close to the $10 million price tag that comes with the redevelopment of the building.
The city’s Building, Housing and Planning Department cited the building, which was formerly the Spitzer Plaza Hotel until it closed in 2005, for building violations in January including: failure to maintain the exterior structure in good repair, structurally sound and sanitary so it will not pose a threat to public health and safety; bricks that appeared to be detaching from the building; and two unsafe conditions violations, which said that siding and masonry joints were not maintained or weather-resistant, as well as that veneer, cornice, belt courses, trim and other decorative features were not properly anchored or capable of supporting loads.
At a May 25 pretrial hearing, assistant law director Mallory Holmes said Spitzer Great Lakes Ltd., who will own the building until the final paperwork is signed to give it to the port, had until today to fix the building’s problems or the citations would go to trial Sept. 21.
Arredondo said despite some negative comments, he left the meeting feeling hopeful.
“It was a lot of one-on-one discussions with Jim (Louthen), really trying to get a feel for what everyone is thinking,” he said. “It was very informal, but a lot of great questions were being asked, and I think we gave them a lot to think about.”
Arredondo said he thinks the development plans are further along than the administration or residents anticipated.
“I think there are some people who thought we’d never make it this far with it,” he said. “There are always going to be naysayers about a project like this, but I’m very hopeful about where it’s headed.”
Louthen could not be reached for comment.
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