Bishop, local officials to meet to discuss St. Anthony Church

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Bishop Daniel Thomas again has invited community leaders to discuss the fate of St. Anthony Catholic Church, one day after the Lucas County Land Bank sought more time to evaluate the diocese's offer to donate to it the church and land.

The bishop invited Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur and land bank President David Mann to meet Tuesday and talk about "a possible path toward the donation of the property to the Land Bank." A time was not specified.

On Thursday, about an hour before the Diocese of Toledo's 5 p.m. offer deadline, the Lucas County Land Bank stated it wanted more time decide on the diocese's plan to gift the St. Anthony church and land.

A letter from David Mann, land bank president, to Bishop Daniel Thomas said Thursday that the organization "cannot meet that arbitrary and artificial deadline."

Mann wishes to fully inspect the 1891 building, which was set for demolition on Monday, and the land without pre-condition by June 21 at 5 p.m.

There was no word on Friday whether the diocese was amenable to that request.

Letters traded between the Lucas County Land Bank and the bishop of the Diocese of Toledo on Wednesday saw an offer to preserve St. Anthony Catholic Church first spurned by the land bank and then revised by the bishop.

In a counteroffer after the land bank's rejection of the initial plan, Bishop Daniel Thomas said he was "offering the building and the land on which it sits as an outright gift to the Lucas County Land Bank," his letter said. The diocese's offer was on the table until 5 p.m. Thursday.

The church originally was slated for demolition starting as early as Monday, but the city issued a stop-work order on Sunday night, citing several construction-related issues that needed to be resolved.

In Thursday's letter, Mann outlined several key reasons why the land bank would not be meeting the 5 p.m. deadline. First, he noted the land bank's board of directors must act by resolution, and any special meeting to consider the matter must be called with at least a 24-hour notice.

"Just minutes after I received and was able to read your letter (Wednesday) and see the deadline, the Land Bank ran out of time to call legally a special meeting," Mann said.

He also stated that the deadline set is artificial because "no work is able to happen today by 5 p.m. even if you wanted it to" because the demolition contractor had not secured a permit for the demolition of the building.

The most important reason for not meeting the deadline, Mann wrote, was that it "does not give the Land Bank the reasonable opportunity to inspect the structural and physical condition of the building and the property -- an opportunity afforded every purchaser or done in almost every real estate transaction that has ever occurred."

In what he called his "best and final proposal," Mann said that as part of the plan the land bank also wants negotiations with the diocese to secure some of the funds that the diocese has obligated to demolish the building. He said that he believes the plan will save the diocese more than $500,000.

"If there is money available right now to tear the building down, some of that money is surely available to help preserve it where it stands," Mann wrote.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who committed $70,000 of her own money to help with the costs of saving the space, issued a letter of her own to Mann on Thursday. The congresswoman expressed gratitude for the land bank's preservation efforts and "dismay" over the diocese's actions.

"I am dismayed by the continued refusal of the Diocese of Toledo to: (1) allow enough time for access to the building for ... a preliminary assessment ... and (2) meet with City Council representatives from the impacted neighborhood and with leaders of the Junction Coalition...," she said.

She reiterated her commitment to pay the cost of removing the fencing and returning the demolition equipment to Napoleon and provided cost estimates based on prevailing wage rates. The total came to $1,874.88.

"At the successful completion of your efforts to avoid the wrecking ball and secure the property for preservation and reuse, be assured I will ask the Kaptur Community Fund to compensate the Diocese of Toledo for the aforementioned costs. I am advising the Fund today to set aside up to $2,500, anticipating the potential for unforeseen costs," Kaptur wrote.

The flurry of letters started Wednesday, when the land bank had declined the Toledo Diocese's initial proposal on the future 1891 building, saying it didn't give them enough evaluation time, and they want to use the money set aside for the building's demolition to support maintenance and a preservation strategy.

The first proposal from the diocese was termed to be an offer "that no reasonable party could accept," according to a letter from the land bank.

According to the letter to Bishop Thomas earlier Wednesday, Mann said Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and Kaptur chose to have the land bank respond to the proposal because it is "uniquely suited to own and support the redevelopment of vacant properties."

Mann said that they will not accept the plan because they found the terms unreasonable. Representatives from the Diocese of Toledo gave their proposal on Tuesday for saving St. Anthony Catholic Church from demolition — along with a 48-hour window for officials to consider it.

The bishop had proposed reconsidering the demolition of the building and donating the property and building after a series of conditions were met.

In the letter, Mann noted that the bishop requested "that the City of Toledo pay $285,000 to the Napoleon-based demolition company for the loss of work associated with your decision to terminate the demolition contract. In addition, you requested that Congresswoman Kaptur personally pay $70,000 to the demolition company based on her statement she would pay to remove the fencing and equipment and move it back to western Ohio."

"Finally, if the taxpayers of the City of Toledo and Congresswoman Kaptur paid $355,000, you would donate the deteriorating building to a public entity but without any funds to support its ongoing maintenance," Mann wrote.

He outlined what he believes to be "the only viable offer to achieve our mutual goals" for St. Anthony. They are looking for:

  • 15 business days, not 48 hours, to inspect the condition of the 20,000 square-foot building inside and out. "If the building has deteriorated to the point where demolition is the only economically feasible option, the Land Bank will not stand in the way of that work."
  • If the building is structurally viable, Mann asks that the diocese donate the property to the land bank along with a portion of the funds that the diocese would have used to demolish the building -- "likely no less than $300,000" -- to support a maintenance and preservation strategy.

"As you have acknowledged, preserving the vacant church building has cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years and funds to continue those 'mothballing' investments must be made available for any property donation to be acceptable to the Land Bank," Mann wrote.

Mann further notes that if demolition is to be halted, "the taxpayers of Toledo and others cannot bear the burden of that change."

Bishop Thomas, in a letter responding to Mann's rejection, set out to correct what he described as "factual errors" in Mann's missive. "First, I did not request the City of Toledo to pay $285,000 to the demolition company but rather invited 'Mayor Kapszukiewicz to at least assist the diocese in the costs associated with breaking the signed contract and to fulfill the commitment to the demolition firm.' This would serve as a just support to those laborers who, for months, were relying on this scheduled work."

The bishop also said he did not request that Kaptur pay for the mobilization costs. Rather, he said he expressed "gratitude and accepted her generous offer to personally cover those expenses, an offer that was made publicly on Saturday at the press conference."

"I continue to be grateful to Ms. Kaptur for her willingness to fulfill that offer," the bishop wrote.

Addressing Mann, Bishop Thomas said, "you have noted in your letter that the taxpayers of Toledo and others cannot bear the burden of stopping the demolition. Likewise, the faithful of the Diocese cannot be expected to continue to bear the burden of supporting a delay in action."

Copyright 2018 WTOL. All rights reserved.