August 20, 2014

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Builders ready to dive into quarry project

There are lots of local builders who are willing, able and, in fact, eager to participate in a project like the one Industrial Realty Group is proposing for the quarries in South Amherst.

But that doesn’t mean they’re banking on it to make their payrolls.

When a European company’s initial plan for the former Cleveland Quarries Co. property fell through earlier this year, it sucked the wind out of a lot of hopeful sails.

“The last time they were talking about this, it seemed too good to be true. … How could something like that be coming to Lorain County?” said Rocco Fana, executive director of the North Coast Building Industry Association, referring to a failed $1.25 billion development plan from Trans European.

Like many developers, Fana was elated when that massive project was proposed, and he supported it full-throttle. And then the deal fell apart.

“For me it was a shock,” Fana said. “It left a bad taste in your mouth that it fell through.”

But with California-based IRG’s new proposal for the same site — a 1,000-acre development with more 1,150 luxurious homes — Fana and others are hoping the project gets the backing it needs. 

“It’s nice to see that we have something else,” Fana said. “That’s what you have to look at. To me, the dollar amount doesn’t matter. Is it a viable project? Is it going to put people to work in the county? It seems so.”

While IRG has proposed that the 1,150 homes will run from $750,000 to $1.3 million, the likelihood that the entire development will contain homes of that magnitude could be a stretch. IRG is allowing potential homeowners to purchase property and hire their own builder, albeit with stringent design guidelines.

A litany of ponderables — the required sizes and price ranges of the homes, and even the maximum time that IRG is allotting for the buildout of all 1,000 acres — could drastically impact the feasibility of such a project, local builders say.  

“What is their time frame for buildout?” said Chris Majzun, owner of Majzun Construction Co. in Amherst. “It’s not two or three years to buildout — it’s a realistic number.”

IRG estimates it would take a maximum of 10 years to build all the homes, which would include million-dollar-plus homes and condos, and possibly more-affordable homes. 

Majzun said his company has built homes ranging from $250,000 to $600,000.  His crew could easily handle some of the new homes, but most recently they’ve been focusing on commercial work and high-end residential remodeling.

“It’s because residential building is dead in this area,” Majzun said.

It has little to do with who’s building the homes and more to do with who is buying the homes: Nobody, he said.

“It’s a crapshoot,” Majzun said. “Every developer out there does it every day, hoping they can find the buyers they need.” 

But oftentimes, attracting homebuyers means selling the sizzle just as much as the steak.

Just ask Paul Prete, owner of Vermilion-based Prete Builders, one of the few local companies that specializes in the construction of million-dollar-plus homes like the ones IRG wants to build.

“Something has to draw them,” Prete said. “And it has to be more than just a pretty marquee down the street. They need something special to pack all that in there.”

In Sandusky, developers built 300 condos and 50 homes at the harbor, most of which were worth $800,000 to $1 million. The project took more than 15 years to complete, and it wasn’t nearly as dense as the project that IRG is proposing, Prete said.

But it was a success — the nearby islands and tourist attractions drew buyers to Sandusky, Prete said.

IRG is suggesting the new development could be an equestrian and outdoor mecca, replete with hiking trails, a waterfall and the natural splendor of the quarries themselves. 

“I think it’s a wonderful thought,” Prete said. “The original idea was good. It’s wonderful for the area if they have that kind of draw.”

Most developers and builders agree on this much: A project the likes of which IRG is after is a rare bird in these parts.

Trista McClelland, a researcher for real estate appraisal firm CRM Development Research, is part of a team that monitors residential development across 300 municipalities. She said she’s heard of large developments and plush amenities, but the idea of combining the two in the way IRG has proposed is something she hadn’t heard of.

“There are developments with marinas and sizable developments approaching 1,000 units,” McClelland said. “But as far as marrying the two developments on that scale — nothing jumps out at me.”

Builders mentioned other nearby projects — including Crocker Park — but all featured commercial and residential mixes and none were of the scope and size proposed by IRG.

“Is it going to work?” Majzun said of IRG’s plans. “You never know. But they have a good plan in place, and it’s a decent location.”

Whatever happens, the building industry is poised to jump aboard.

“Whether it’s commercial, retail or residential, our guys will be looking at it very closely,” Fana said. “A $500 million residential development doesn’t happen a lot. There’re a lot of big projects, but something like this comes along very infrequently.”

Brian Zuccaro, spokesman for Oster Homes, was bowled over by IRG’s proposal.

“All we know is that the project — even if it’s half the size that it’s been initially outlined — is a pretty ambitious project,” Zuccaro said. “The guy’s definitely a visionary for bringing that to Lorain County."

Chronicle reporter Stephen Szucs contributed to this story. Contact Shawn Foucher at 329-7197 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.