LORAIN — Hold the lifeboats, the St. Joseph Community Center isn’t sunk yet.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Thursday after bailout negotiations with Ohio Department of Development Director Christine Schmenk that the center, awash in a sea of red ink, may stay afloat.
“We’ve moved to some of the items the state is concerned about,” he said.
The latest negotiations came in the wake of officials from Ohio Realty Advisors announcing this week that it was quitting as property manager of the center within 90 days. The lack of a bailout was cited as the reason.
The South Shore Community Development Corp., the nonprofit group that owns the center, threatened to terminate tenants’ leases and close the building if the department didn’t make a counter-offer by today. Citing progress, closure is off for now, according to Todd Roby, a South Shore board of directors member. Roby said the property manager will change, as will the composition of the board.
“But other than that, the plan is to move forward,” said Roby, who wrote a guest column in today’s Chronicle-Telegram in support of the center. “This is still a very doable deal.”
Plagued by cooling and heating problems, leaks and a lack of tenants, the aging center at 205 W. 20th St., lost $300,000 last year and $125,000 through July. Just one floor of the five-floor, 300,000-square-foot center that was formerly St. Joseph’s Hospital is occupied.
Tenants include a satellite branch of Lorain County Community College, the Lorain Sports Hall of Fame, local offices of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown,
D-Avon, and U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, and a Veterans Affairs clinic. Plans to open Valor Home, a shelter for homeless veterans on the fifth floor, stalled in the spring because of the center’s money problems.
Ohio Realty Advisors’ announcement came after an Aug. 24 letter to the department from an attorney representing South Shore. It sought a counter-offer to Ritenauer’s proposed bailout in which city and county taxpayers would pay a combined $600,000 into the center’s operating expenses and pay the department an additional $300,000 through 2015 to pay down a $1.3 million state loan.
In exchange, the state would have forgiven the remaining $1 million. The department forgave half of the original $2.6 million loan in 2010.
Ritenauer, who said he wants Lorain taxpayers off the hook as soon as possible, said the letter helped. Ritenauer, who spoke in a conference call with Schmenk, said she wants Lorain and the county to pay more for operating expenses, but he wouldn’t say how much more.
Despite the center’s problems, Roby said the center is viable and valuable to the community. He said the satellite campus is next to a day-care center, allowing students to bring their children there while they study. The center also assists mentally disabled adults through Alpha Care, which Roby is the CEO of.
Roby said since he joined the board in 2010, the center has added about 100 jobs and reduced the money lost per month from $60,000 to about $25,000. He said state grant money will pay for demolishing older parts of the building and for repairs of the cooling and heating problems, making it more attractive to prospective tenants.
“This thing creates jobs and creates a tax base which is much higher than what the shortfall is,” he said. “People don’t realize that.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or email@example.com.