How a Vacant High-Rise Came to Haunt an East Cleveland Street
Among the thousands of vacant properties in Northeast Ohio, one towers just blocks from a middle school in East Cleveland.
It’s a vacant 13-story apartment building that’s counted among the “dirty dozen,” a list kept by the county of property owners who collectively owe millions in unpaid taxes.
The building was once a 254-unit affordable housing complex known as Huron Place Apartments. Today, just a shell remains. The outer doors, windows, air conditioning units: all are gone.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, children walked past the empty, open building on their way home from school. Cars slowed to a crawl and swerved to avoid massive potholes on Terrace Road.
Myra Houston, who lives nearby, said the site attracts dumping.
“People just come by with big old trucks, flatbed trucks and U-Hauls, and just dump all that debris and trash everywhere,” Houston said.
From Affordable Housing to Bankruptcy
But it wasn’t always this way. From the late 1990s until about two-and-a-half years ago, people lived in Huron Place Apartments.
“It was okay when I first moved in there, and when I had issues, the maintenance were on top of it,” said Lillie Glenn, who moved into the 12th floor in 2011 and later relocated to the fourth floor.
Glenn said she spoke with the property management company as the building’s condition deteriorated.
“I’ve lived in four places in East Cleveland,” she said, “and by far I can say that Huron Place Apartments turned out to be the worst.”
The owner is a company called Park Lane Associates. Behind that company is Franklin Capital Group, a collection of real estate firms in Alexandria, Virginia. The president of Franklin Capital, Joseph E. Resende, did not respond to requests for comment.
The year before Glenn moved in, Park Lane filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In court, the company reported that the building was half empty. In 2012, the company’s attorneys told the court that Park Lane had “no funds to continue operating the property.”
Glenn said she began to notice water leaks.
“On one occasion, I was sitting in my living room, and I heard a spark, and there was water,” Glenn said. “My microwave was plugged in. There was water coming into my microwave, which could have caused a problem.”
The property management company, Great Lakes Realty, declined to comment. But in early 2013, the company told WEWS that the leaks came from pipes that froze and burst.
Building Declared ‘Dangerous to Human Life’
Park Lane was sued in the summer of 2014 for failing to pay on its debts. A county common pleas court judge appointed Mac Biggar, the president of Hanna Commercial Real Estate’s office in Cleveland, as the property’s receiver.
In a letter to Biggar in August that year, East Cleveland Fire Chief Rick Wilcox wrote that the building had “glaring health issues which are black mold and garbage backing up in the rubbish chutes.”
The city declared Huron Place Apartments “a health and safety hazard” that was “unfit for human occupancy.”
“I think there were approximately nine or 10 different tenants at the point we took over, and we got that down to zero, obviously,” Biggar said. “Most of them were vacant, most of them had been vandalized and what-have-you.”
Biggar tried to sell the building for $200,000, a fraction of what it went for in the ’90s. But the sale fell through.
“The person who owned the building was nowhere to be found, and didn’t want, was out of state and didn’t want anything to do with it,” Biggar said.
But others did find a use for Huron Place Apartments.
This video was shot in the summer of 2015 by Gerald Strothers, an East Cleveland blogger who runs the site 44112news.com. It shows a scrapper tearing a metal window frame and air conditioners from an upper floor, letting them fall several stories to the ground.
Who Will Pay an Estimated $1.9 Million for Demolition?
Park Lane Associates owes just north of $1 million in unpaid property taxes and other fees. Last year, Cuyahoga County prosecutors began to foreclose.
Colleen Majeski, the supervisor in the tax foreclosure unit in the prosecutor’s office, has seen success recovering money from other delinquent landlords in the “dirty dozen.”
But in cases like Huron Place Apartments, that might not be possible.
“Normally, those type of cases are, we won’t see our costs, the taxes probably won’t be collected,” Majeski said. “It will hopefully go to a land bank who will take it, and they’ll knock it down, and at least from that community aspect, it’ll be a safer place to be.”
Demolition costs could be around $1.9 million, according to an estimate by Frank Ford, a researcher at the Thriving Communities Institute.
It’s unclear who would pay for that. Often, it’s the public.