LORAIN — Several veteran organizations are pulling the donations they made to help fund a proposed transitional housing facility for needy veterans because of concerns over the future of St. Joseph Community Center, where Valor Home is supposed to be.
“I don’t see a future in that place,” said Bill Knapp, treasurer of the Elyria chapter of Disabled American Veterans, which has asked for the Valor Home Lorain County Committee to return $6,000 in donations.
Pat Ryan, president of the county’s chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association, said his group voted Monday night to ask for its $3,000 donation back. Ryan said he likes the idea of locating the Valor Home at St. Joe’s, which currently houses a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic, but there’s been no forward movement on the project in months.
“It just seems like nothing’s getting done,” Ryan said.
Ryan, Knapp and Sam Betounes, adjutant at the American Legion post in Elyria, which also has asked for its $3,000 donation back, said they aren’t giving up on the project. If St. Joe’s stabilizes or a new location is selected, their organizations plan to donate the same amounts again.
“The money can be used right now if they get it all straightened out,” Betounes said. “The money can be returned.”
Those working on the Valor Home project said they were disappointed that some groups were pulling their money because of the uncertainty surrounding St. Joe’s.
“It’s just sad they don’t have the confidence this thing will turn around,” the committee’s vice chairman, Dan Gillotti, said.
The Valor Home project has largely been on hold while South Shore Community Development Corp., which owns St. Joe’s, tries to sort out financial and physical problems that plague the former hospital building.
The facility has been operating in a deficit for years and a January letter from building management company Ohio Realty Advisors said the company projected St. Joe’s would rack up operating losses at a rate of $25,000 per month this year.
Ohio Realty threatened to pull out of St. Joe’s if the problems weren’t fixed, but company officials have previously said they are working on ways to address the issues.
“It’s a concern, but we’re not at a point where we’re going to bail out,” Gillotti said.
Matthew Slater, director of veterans services for Family and Community Services Inc., which is involved in the project, said despite the problems at St. Joe’s, there’s still a belief the facility will survive.
“We think it’s unfortunate, and it’s way too early to be asking for your contribution back,” he said.
The committee had planned to pay $300,000 for space at St. Joe’s and spend another $400,000 renovating the area.
In addition to donations, which amount to roughly $50,000, the Valor Home has funding in the form of a $474,000 grant from the VA, with another $250,000 coming from a Federal Home Loan Bank. Slater said only the money from the bank is site-specific to St. Joe’s, and the rest of the money could be used if the Valor Home were forced to seek an alternate location.
Knapp, who once served on the Valor Home committee, said one of his concerns is that if the Valor Home were to locate in St. Joe’s and the community center ultimately closes later, the committee would have to repay a portion of the money it received.
Don Attie, another committee member, said he and fellow veterans are hopeful that they can convince Gov. John Kasich to offer some relief for St. Joe’s and keep the building from shutting down.
The Ohio Department of Development in May rejected a proposal by the city of Lorain that would have seen the city and county kick in a combined total of $600,000 in operating money for St. Joe’s over the next three years and spend $300,000 toward paying off a $1.3 million state loan to South Shore.
In return, the city asked the state to forgive the remainder of the loan, which both the county and city have guaranteed they will pay off if St. Joe’s shuts its doors.
In 2010, the state forgave half of the original loan of $2.6 million under another deal that was supposed to shore up St. Joe’s finances. In a counteroffer to the city’s proposal, the state offered to let South Shore defer payments on the loan’s interest and principal until 2015, but local officials have said that’s not enough.
Attie said the veterans have sent around 3,700 letters to Kasich and are seeking a face-to-face meeting to ask him to reconsider. So far that meeting hasn’t happened, and Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Thursday that efforts by the city and state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, to discuss the issue with Kasich also have been unsuccessful.
Knapp and Ryan said they find it unlikely that the committee’s efforts to get Kasich to intervene will be successful.
“They’re very enthusiastic, but enthusiasm doesn’t get the job done,” Ryan said.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.