Shriners to leave downtown, head for suburbs
CHARTER SCHOOL TO MOVE IN
Thursday, February 8, 2007
By ROBIN ERB
The Zenobia Shrine, an anchor in Toledo's Uptown district since 1949, is heading to the suburbs.
The Shriners' destination: an undisclosed, five-acre piece of land in Perrysburg Township.
Among other things, the move will displace weekly meetings of another longtime fraternal organization, The Rotary Club of Toledo.
Meanwhile, a well-known local developer is finalizing his purchase of the 55,000-square-foot Shrine building for a Virginia-based firm that plans to open a charter school there.
The Magnet School of Math, Science, and Technology most likely would set aside one of two large meeting areas in the Shrine building for weekend wedding and party rentals to help offset the school's operating expenses, said developer David Ball, who owns several downtown buildings.
The Shrine building is a "wonderful" fit for the school because of its auditorium, kitchen, and collection of small rooms, said Mr. Ball, who also owns the Ohio Building, the former Woolworth Building, and is a partner with former NBA star and local businessman Jimmy Jackson in redeveloping the former Toledo Edison steam plant into riverfront housing.
"If the [Shrine] building would have been mothballed and dark, I'm not sure how long it would have taken to find the right re-use," he said.
The decision by the Shriners to move comes down to numbers, said Potentate Mike Schnapp, who reported the group had been at its present location since 1949.
The group's membership has shrunk to about 2,500 members - roughly half what it was just 15 years ago - while costs for heat, electricity, and other utilities have swelled to more than $80,000 a year, he said.
That's a thick slice from an annual budget that also finances local projects and helps fund Shriners pediatric hospitals around the country, Mr. Schnapp said.
"When your utilities - like [the increases] that everyone is experiencing - beat you down, you can't survive," he said.
Because the average age of the Toledo area's Shriners is about 65 years, many are on a fixed income. Increasing membership dues enough to make ends meet is not an option, he said.
Shriners will continue to appear in the downtown Toledo holiday parade and other parades with their trademark minicars, and will also hold their circus. But members hope to build a new headquarters that is about one-fourth of the size of the current building, Mr. Schnapp said.
He declined to discuss other details on the group's plans, citing the pending purchase of land in Perrysburg Township for the new facility.
Mr. Schnapp referred questions to Brian McMahon, president of Danberry National Ltd., who confirmed he had been working with the Shriners for about a year. He, too, declined comment, citing the pending deal.
Until the Shriners complete construction of a new headquarters, they've made arrangements to lease vacant commercial space at Glendale Avenue and Reynolds Road, said E. LeRoy Williams, the Shriners' business manager and recorder.
Shriners looked for alternative quarters closer to central Toledo but were unable to find a facility with adequate parking, he said.
"We have the largest parking lot downtown," Mr. Williams said.
Shrine representatives met with city officials some months ago. The Shriners were told that the city couldn't offer tax abatements that it can to buildings that are located in the downtown core, Mr. Schnapp recalled.
But even if tax incentives had been offered, the potentate said, it probably wouldn't have persuaded the Shriners to stay.
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner didn't respond to a request yesterday for an interview about the Shriners' departure, but his spokesman said the mayor and an economic development representative had met with the group.
Shriners had decided not to advertise that their building was for sale for fear they'd discourage potential renters of their facilities. So the news they intended to leave came as a surprise to Tom Crothers, head of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District, Inc.
Mr. Crothers said he didn't hear about the Shriners leaving until it was "fait accompli."
The Shriners building stands just outside the 38 block-area covered by the Improvement District, whose workers have spent the last year cleaning up garbage and graffiti and otherwise promoting the downtown.
"There's a lot of good going on in downtown Toledo, and I think that's why hearing about their leaving is so disappointing," Mr. Crothers said.
The Rotary, which has met each Monday at the Shrine for many years, has spent several months searching for an alternative meeting place downtown, said President Phineas Anderson.
A search committee has not announced its decision to the general membership, he said, so he declined to identify the new location until then.
Staff Writer David Patch contributed to this report.