The first building that I will look at is the Berdan Building, which is located on the south side of Washington Street between Huron and Erie Streets. The building’s immense size of 130,000 square feet means that it has five addresses: 601 Washington St., 1 S. Erie St., 8 S. Erie St. 14 S. Erie St., and 23 S. Erie St. The current owner of the building is Parkstone Berdan Building, LLC, which, based on filings with the Ohio Secretary of State, is likely a part of Root Redevelopment, LLC.
The Berdan Building was designed by George Stratford Mills, a London-born architect who was the head of partner of the Toledo firm of Mills, Rhines, Bellman & Nordhoff from 1912 until his death in 1939. Completed in 1901, the building was named for John Berdan, the first mayor of Toledo. Besides the Berdan Building, Mills designed the Commodore Perry Hotel, the Ohio Bank Building, the Toledo Safety Building, and the Toledo County Club’s Clubhouse. The building was designed for private commercial use – mostly for the grocery warehousing of Empire Tea – and has also been known as King Warehouse No. 1. The building is “noted for its overall simplicity, terra-cotta ornament, and flaring roofline.”
It is unclear when the building fell into disuse. In the late 1960s, prompted by the loss of important structures in Toledo, the Maumee Valley Historical Society began work on having several area buildings protected by the newly-enacted National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Current Status of Building
Since it sits across the intersection of Huron and Washington Streets from the cornerstone of the city’s Warehouse District revitalization plans, the building has been the focus of several failed rehabilitation attempts in recent years. At the early part of the decade, the building was planned to be a part of a community called Huron Street Village (which was to be modeled after SoHo).
In January 2005, Keith Brown, one of the developers of Bartley Lofts, said that the structure “does not lay out well” for residential space but said that it was ideal for retail space. At that time, David Root, the foreign-based  developer behind Huron Street Village and owner of the building through Root Redevelopment, LLC,  made public his plans to sell the building.
Root Redevelopment, LLC, sold off the properties via his Root Redevelopment, LLC to Parkstone Berdan Building, LLC, on December 15, 2005 for $1.35 million. (8 S. Erie Street, also part of the property, was acquired by Parkstone Berdan Building, LLC, at the same time from Timberstone Group, Inc., for an additional $175,000.) In October 2005, two months before acquiring the building, the new developers of the building announced a $16 million renovation project for the building. The group of developers in Parkstone Berdan Building LLC, which included Robert Gersten and Joe Swolsky of Park West Development Inc. and Daniel Sandwisch and Mike Denman of Timberstone Group, were some of the people behind the Bartley Lofts.
As part of the $1.35 million purchase, Parkstone Berdan Building LLC received a five-year low interest $500,000 loan from Lucas County. The loan had unanimous approval from the county commissioners. From 2003 through 2007, Swolsky and Gersten gave more than $14,000 to Commissioners Gerken, Skelton-Wosniak, and Konop. In return for these donations, Swolsky said he expects access to the commissioners.
The day before receiving the loan, Parkstone Berdan Building, LLC, released a feasibility study and an economic impact study, which called the results “very promising.” Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said, “The track record of the developers is good. This is a low-risk, high-return investment.” The $500,000 loan was the largest loan ever loaned by Lucas County to a nongovernmental entity. As The Blade noted, “a condition of the low-interest five-year loan is a provision for repayment if the development isn’t completed within three years.” In the minutes for the Commissioner’s meetings, there are no mentions of any repayment of this loan.
In March 2006, three months after the sale of the building, The Bladereported that the University of Toledo College of Law was considering moving from the Main Campus to the Berdan Building. A week later, the Vice Chairman of the UT Board of Trustees stressed that those discussions were in “the earliest stage.” The idea was met with strong resistance from UT Law’s faculty. In an Op-Ed in The Blade, Professor Howard Friedman stressed issues over too many campuses at the university (particularly with the then-pending UT/MUO merger), previous financial investments in the building, and structural issues with housing a book-dense library. UT soon made it clear that the College of Law would remain on the Main Campus, citing issues that would develop if its two professional schools were not on the Main Campus.
Since the news associated with the potential move of the College of Law in Spring 2006, there has been little happening – either in the news or on the ground – with the building. The Lucas County Auditor values the property at $1,243,700 and $56,051.27 in taxes is due on the property. No construction permits have been filed with the county. In Summer 2006 and possibly since, there was some roof work done on the building. However, the building remains the eyesore of the Warehouse District, a monstrous building with broken glass and boarded windows that sits across from the main entrance of Downtown Toledo’s main attraction.
As a result, the Berdan Building is more of an enigma than a piece of Downtown Toledo’s revitalization. Will anything be done with the building by Parkstone Berdan Building, LLC? Did the county get their $500,000 back since the building has not been developed in the three years since the loan? Will the owners at least make the building into one that is not unattractive on the outside by repairing the windows or, at least, cleaning up the piles of glass on the sidewalk that often sit for weeks? Some of the answers to these questions lie with the building’s place on the National Register of Historic Places. The restrictions placed on the building by the NRHP and, more specifically, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, may prevent the area from getting the best possible use out of the location.
Nevertheless, the building seems to be the most prominent symbol of the issues surrounding the recent attempts at downtown revitalization. Several grand and impractical plans have come about in the last decade, with very little happening to the building. The city, county, the building’s current owners, and the surrounding businesses may best be served if the building was torn down. Such a demolition would be a sad ending to an impressive and historic building, but it might be the only realistic option going forward.
Recent pictures of the Berdan Building are available here. I can’t figure out how to do a slideshow in this post – I’ll figure it out some day.