History of Metro West apartments mirrors West Side decline

on Monday, 17 March 2014.

Foundation for future development

In a couple of months, giant claws will have eaten their way through 465 apartments being razed at Metro West.

But some day, those and other units on up to 30 acres might be replaced by “affordable” senior housing, Nick Tambakis, chief operating officer of Wingate LLC of New York, said last week. Wingate owns the 100-acre, 1,732-unit apartment complex on the West Side south of Westland Mall.

“We have a buyer,” Tambakis said. “It’s under contract and moving along.”

Prairie Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker, whose township  ordered the demolition, is skeptical of Tambakis’ announcement.

“I’m a cynic about this,” Hatmaker said. “They’ve said they had buyers before, and then the buyers were elusive.”

The remainder of the complex is in Franklin Township, which is not pushing for demolition. Tambakis estimated that the remaining units are 60 percent occupied.

He said a couple of prospective buyers are interested in the frontage along Georgesville Road. A market study suggests a budget hotel would complement a potential high-end hotel at the nearby Hollywood Casino Columbus.http://www.thewestonvision.com/administrator/index.php?option=com_zoo&controller=item&task=edit&type=article&cid[]=154

Wingate is  an affiliate of Matrix Realty, which Tambakis said has been incorrectly identified as the property’s owner.

The corporation bought the complex in 2005 and has put $10 million into repairs and renovations, Tambakis said. However, litigation involving the estate of a principal in the corporation has slowed those efforts, he added.

“We weren’t able to keep the property up like we wanted,” he said.

The units being torn down were found to be structurally unsound and uninhabitable.

Almost 50 years ago, the dream of local developers Seymour Luckoff and Buddy Roth was called Lincoln Park West. It attracted professionals and well-paid workers from area manufacturing plants with amenities then seldom found in central Ohio apartment complexes — an indoor pool, social activities, pancake breakfasts and a feeling of community.

“It was full of people with good jobs,” said Chuck Patterson, chairman of the Greater Hilltop Area Association. He spent a lot of time there as a teenager visiting friends and their families.

Tom Fortin was a 12-year-old riding around the complex in trucks from his father’s business helping to install ornamental ironwork on the buildings.

“It was a very vibrant community of very happy people,” Fortin said. “There was a lot of social and recreational activities that kind of bonded residents. Residents just loved living there.”

But as the fortunes of the West Side declined over the decades, so did those of Lincoln Park West. The good-paying jobs vanished when employers such as White Westinghouse left in 1988 and Delphi in 2007. The casino rose from the Delphi site.

Westland Mall hemorrhaged customers in the 1990s when Easton Town Center and Tuttle Crossing were built.

The exodus of tenants quickened, and so did the pace of police calls — 4,300 in 1998, according to Franklin Township police and the sheriff’s office.

In 2000, Fortin, by then a developer, took over the complex, which had also gone by the names Shannon Way and Darby Woods. He restored the Lincoln Park West name. Occupancy was 22 percent.

Most of his tenants were first-generation Latinos and Somali immigrants. He empathized with them. His grandparents, the Fortunatos, had emigrated from Sicily.

He provided free apartments for social workers to use as offices, food and clothing pantries and a job-procurement center. The occupancy rate rose to 87 percent as immigrants flocked to the complex. Deportation was not a big fear in those days.

Then 9/11 happened.

“Peaceful, hard-working, fantastic parents, church-going people all of a sudden had a target on their back,” Fortin said.

Fortin sold his interest in the property in 2002 after Columbus Police Chief James Jackson blocked attempts to annex it to the city, saying he didn’t have enough officers to patrol the massive complex. Fortin was seeking lower water and sewer rates.

Two years later, a fire in one unit killed 10 people and added to its sagging reputation.

Soon after, Wingate bought it and renamed it Wingate Village and, later, Metro West.

West Side automobile dealer Chris Haydocy said demolition “is the only path to take. It was 30 years of a downward spiral.”

“If the only amenity you have to sell an apartment, house or a car is the lowest price, it’s not sustainable,” Haydocy said. “People want jobs, walkability, restaurants, shopping and safety.”

Tambakis is betting on being able to provide a new future for the property.