LORAIN — A partial bailout of Lorain and Lorain County taxpayers’ obligations to the financially hemorrhaging St. Joseph Community Center has been tentatively agreed to by the state.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer told City Council Finance & Claims Committee members Monday that Ohio Department of Development officials have agreed to a draft plan in which $450,000 of the $1.35 million state loan owed by the city and county would be forgiven.
City and county taxpayers would owe $425,000 each under the plan, which would have to be approved by Council members, taxpayers from both are on the hook right now for $675,000 if the center at 205 W. 20th St., closes.
Details of the plan are being finalized, and Ritenauer said he hopes to present it to Council members to approve next month.
The center has been plagued by cooling and heating problems and a lack of tenants. Just one floor of the five-floor, 300,000-square-foot former hospital is occupied.
Last month, Ohio Realty Advisers announced it was quitting as property manager of the center within 90 days, citing red ink and the lack of a bailout. A lawyer for the South Shore Development Corp., the nonprofit group that owns the center on behalf of the city and county, threatened to close the center if a deal wasn’t reached soon.
The center lost $300,000 last year and $125,000 through July. The center has monthly costs of between $30,000 and $45,000 and loses between $15,000 and $30,000 monthly, according to Doug Rangel, executive director of the Lorain Development Corporation, Lorain’s private business consultant.
Despite its problems, Ritenauer said two or three developers have expressed interest in buying the center. However, Ritenauer said interest is contingent on debt forgiveness and use of a $1.6 million federal taxpayer loan to demolish older parts of the center, portions of which date back to 1892.
Ritenauer said the proposal has the support of county commissioners Ted Kalo, Lori Kokoski and Tom Williams. Williams, who had been shut out of some center negotiations by fellow commissioners, has questioned the viability of the center, whose tenants include a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic and a satellite branch of Lorain County Community College.
Ritenauer said the plan is no guarantee of success, but if nothing is done, the center will close.
“It gives us the best possible chance for a successful outcome by satisfying what we know is our obligation to the state, keeping those demolition dollars intact and working with those entities that have expressed interest in making this a successful center,” Ritenauer said.
Plans to build Valor Home, a shelter for homeless veterans at the center, have stalled due to uncertainty over its future. Nonetheless, Leon Mason, a grants coordinator for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who works in the center, said contrary to persistent rumors, the clinic will remain open at the center. Reading from an email from a VA official, Mason said the lease at the center runs through 2024, and there are no plans to move, “unless events beyond their control require such action.”
Mason said he’s spoken with prospective tenants, but a resolution needs to be reached, because, “no one wants to move into a burning house.”
Council members expressed support for the plan and the center.
“If it’s going to be a white elephant, we’ve got to feed it,” said Councilman Eddie Edwards, D-5th Ward. “If we don’t feed it, it’s going to die on us.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.