October 1, 2014

Elyria
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Donated building comes with hidden costs, old tenant warns

ELYRIA — The former tenant of a south Elyria building owned by a philanthropic group is warning Elyria officials not to accept the building as a restricted-use donation because the city could find itself being evicted without reason.

Nordson Corporation Foundation this week offered to donate to the city a 200,000-square-foot building at Middle Avenue and Oberlin-Elyria Road, as long as the city agrees to use the building solely for youth activities for the next decade.

City officials are mulling the proposal, but  Community Impact Organization — the group that previously occupied the building — is telling city officials to scrap the entire idea.

“The city is going to put money into a building that they will never own,” said Jim Slone of Community Impact Organization. “If I was dealing with Nordson on this, I’d run like hell and nobody could stop me.”

Slone and CIO Executive Director Todd Walts said they leased the building from the foundation, paying $1 a year to use it as a youth center. The agreement, Slone said, was that CIO would have the option to purchase the building after leasing it for a few years.

Anticipating ownership, CIO volunteers and officials outfitted the building with various amenities for youth — recreation rooms and equipment, and study areas — and also for a food pantry.

“You don’t do all that if you’re planning on just leaving the place,” Slone said, adding that CIO purchased drywall, flooring, insulation and other infrastructure elements to fix up the building.

Slone said the foundation — with no warning or justification — asked CIO to pack up and leave. CIO officially moved out in November 2006. “We basically fixed up the building, and they took it back,” Slone said.

“I’m going to tell the city just how it is to deal with Nordson.”

Nordson Corporation Foundation Director Cecilia Render said Nordson examined CIO’s finances last year and determined that the group didn’t have the financial resources to continue operating as a tenant at the Middle Avenue building, where annual utilities alone ran about $25,000.

When asked if CIO’s finances were shaky, Walts said the facts speak for themselves. Nonprofit tax filings that CIO submitted for 2004 to 2005 showed revenues of $415,842, $266,908 and $160,862 each year, respectively, without any deficits after money was carried over from year to year.

Elyria Mayor Bill Grace said city officials began talking to Nordson a year ago, and the two groups began hammering out an arrangement where the city could acquire the building. The arrangement Nordson has proposed will put the building in the city’s hands, but Elyria can use it only for some type of youth center for 10 years.

If the city were to deviate from that plan and use the building for any government services or storage, the building’s ownership would revert back to Nordson. 

Elyria Councilman Garry Gibbs, R-3rd Ward, has called the building a “white elephant.” Walts said he understands Slone’s frustration at the interaction with Nordson because Slone was a key volunteer in polishing up the building in hopes of permanent ownership.
“He’s upset because he’s one of the guys who really put a lot of work into that building,” Walts said.

“Are we happy with what happened? No. From an organizational standpoint, we’re just focused on the future and how we can continue to serve the community.”

CIO has since moved to a facility on North Ridge Road, where it continues to operate a food pantry, character-education program and bully-prevention program.

Contact Shawn Foucher at 653-6255 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com