Ignoring The Community With St. Anthony’s Church Transformation

We have an update on a recent public records check concerning the tax dollars being spent on the reuse of the former St. Anthony’s Catholic church in Toledo. Why does it seem like the Lucas County Land Bank is ignoring the wishes of the neighborhood community?

Episode 64: Ignoring The Community With St. Anthony’s Church Transformation

Listen in as we unravel the story of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Toledo, a once-abandoned church that was saved from demolition by the tireless efforts of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and the Lucas County Land Bank. We discuss the process of determining what the building could be used for, guided by the wishes of the community and the ideas generated by a focus group. We talk about potential uses for the space, such as a health and athletics center, a museum, and a focal point for the neighborhood, while keeping the conversation rooted in the neighborhood’s needs.

We look at the Lucas County Land Bank’s redevelopment plans, including the shift from proposing affordable housing to a community event space. We examine a controversial proposal by Adventus, a recreational company, to turn the church into a for-profit climbing gym, and how this is not what the community wants. You’ll hear how this case may set a precedent for the redevelopment of other abandoned churches in Toledo. Don’t miss this engaging conversation on community development, preservation, and the creative reuse of old buildings.

00:45 Group News
02:20 Update on St. Anthony’s reuse project
26:35 Epilogue

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Program note: The next episode, Episode 65, will probably be published the week of October 4th.


June 2020 St. Anthony Re-Use Feasibility Study

St. Anthony’s Redevelopment (Lucas County Land Bank)

In early February 2023, that marketing attracted a Letter of Intent from Adventus Climbing, a local recreational climbing gym operation, regarding the redevelopment of St. Anthony’s as a climbing gym. At the same time, the Land Bank received a $4 million Community Project Funding appropriation from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to make critical investments in the building and adjacent land.”

While the memo dated 01/24/2023 states: Shortly after the Land Bank acquired the property in 2018, we began conversations with Adventus Climbing about their goal to meet local market demand for climbing gym spaces….”

Toledo’s historic St. Anthony Church eyed for climbing gym

Community full of ideas for how to repurpose St. Anthony Church

Land Bank memo from January 2023


Click Here to Read Full Transcript

0:00:02 – VO
This is Glass City Humanist a show about humanism, humanist values, by a humanist. Here is your host, douglas.

0:00:11 – Douglas
Burger. We have an update on a recent public records check concerning the tax dollars being spent on the reuse of the former St Anthony’s Catholic Church in Toledo. Why does it seem like the Lucas County Land Bank is ignoring the wishes of the neighborhood community?

0:00:26 – VO
Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the secular humanists of western Lake Erie, building community through compassion and reason for a better tomorrow.

0:00:45 – Douglas
Welcome to another edition of the Glass City Humanist. I am Doug Burger, the host, and before we get started with the meat of the episode, as it were, I just wanted to send out a reminder and some information to friends and members of the secular humanists of western Lake Erie. We are coming towards the end of our fiscal year at the secular humanists of western Lake Erie, and if you purchased or if you became a member during this fiscal year before March in 2022, like October 2022, till about March, your membership is coming due at the end of this month, on September 30th. All memberships generally expire at the end of September, and so you know if you want to be a member or continue to be a member so you can serve on the board of directors. What you want to do is you want to renew your membership today or get a new one. It’s as simple as that. So I really appreciate the members and the friends who support us all year long and we hope that that continues on with the show.

0:02:12 – VO
This is Glass City Humanist.

0:02:20 – Douglas
My humanist group was formed in. My local humanist group was formed in 2018. And one of the first things that we worked on that in the community was opposing the saving of St Anthony’s Catholic Church. St Anthony’s Catholic Church is at the corner of Nebraska and Junction Street here in Toledo. It’s an old church. It was built in 1894. It is huge and posing and it was due for demolition in the spring of 2018. The parish had closed and been merged with another nearby parish and they couldn’t find any uses for the building and, like I said, it’s an old building and in need of repairs and the Catholic diocese decided, since they couldn’t find a buyer for it, that they were just going to tear it down. So they did some asbestos abatement and brought in the wrecking equipment and put up a fence.

And that’s when Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur of the 9th District swooped in and started a groundswell of support to try to save the church. And of course, it was a little bit self-serving for her because her family when she was a young girl and her family went to that church back when the neighborhood was a majority of Polish people, polish immigrants in that neighborhood, and so she didn’t want to see her, an icon of her childhood be demolished. I don’t fault her for wanting that. Unfortunately, she wanted to spend tax dollars to save it and so she cajoled and twisted arms and got publicity and everything and got the Lucas County Land Bank to talk the diocese into selling it to them. I don’t know 300,000 or something like that. They focused on it and the mountains sold it. So the Lucas County Land Bank, which is a public entity that basically buys up vacant properties and rehabilitates them or sells them or tears them down and sells the land for redevelopment, so they bought the church. You know, saints be praised. Woohoo, they bought the church, so they saved it from wrecking. So now we’ve got to figure out what we want to do with that building.

One of the things that governments do when they take on a project is they call it talking to the stakeholders for the fancy term. Basically, what they do is they talk to the people in the neighborhood, the people that are going to be directly affected by anything that they do with that church building. They have to talk to the people in the neighborhood and, one, they have to identify what they want and, two, how best they can use that property to address the things that they want in their neighborhood. The junction neighborhood, where this church is located, is pretty distressed Quite a few abandoned properties. The business community is pretty much obliterated. There’s a lot of vacant lands where some houses that had burnt down or became abandoned were torn down because of blight. It’s a struggling neighborhood. It’s primarily African American in makeup and it’s a poor neighborhood.

So trying to find something to do with this big, imposing, gigantic church building that would help the community, that was what they wanted to do. So they formed, of course, a focus group and they came up with some ideas. The focus group came up with some ideas that they and it got reported on in the Toledo Blade in July of 2012. July of 2019. The land bank bought the building in 2018 and they had this focus group in 2019. And two of the stakeholders who were featured in a video that was attached to the Blade article was sister Virginia Welsh from the Padua Center, which was they are using the rectory for St Anthony’s Church where the priest used to live, and that’s the Padua Center. And then the second person that they featured in the video was Major Smith Jr with the Junction Coalition, and the Junction Coalition is the community group that is a major stakeholder for that neighborhood.

0:07:34 – Sister Virginia Welsh
Some ideas I have would be possibly a health and an athletic center. I could see one part of it being a small gym, maybe with a couple universal machines for people to exercise. You could have a good walking track around the inside of it because it’s quite large. We could set up several offices for perhaps a neighborhood nurse to come in.

0:07:58 – Major Smith Jr.
One of the things we talked about in repurposing the building, the St Anthony building, was to possibly a museum of some sort featuring some of the past history of the neighborhood, the holiest organization and transition maybe into what it is today.

0:08:16 – Douglas
Those who attended Monday’s community meeting at the new Mott Branch library were asked two questions what are the neighborhood’s needs and how can the church be redeveloped to address those needs? It says that they want to see the building once again become a neighborhood focal point. Another person said that they wanted to see the building provide access to food. That particular area is considered a food desert. Having an area that you could get food. Other ideas included a bowling alley, a fitness center, art studios, classrooms or a museum. Somebody from the Collingwood Art Center told the group that they need to come up with a use for the building that will at least bring in enough revenue to keep the lights on, because you don’t want the government to have to keep funding it to keep it open. It says whatever ideas you come up with, you better come up with some thoughts about where you’re going to get the money from three, four, five years from now just to pay the daily expenses. The community primarily wants to keep it a focus of the neighborhood and have it as a focal point and community event and gathering space and things like that. That’s what they started to work on. They also talked to Lucas County Treasurer Lindsay Webb. She is the co-chair of the Land Banks Committee on St Anthony’s Redevelopment. She said that redeveloping St Anthony Church will have implications for the junction neighborhood, nebraska Avenue corridor, but also for the city as a whole, as there are 40 other abandoned or vacant churches in Toledo. This is not the first church that is going to have to find its new use and it won’t be the last, ms Webb said. But we want to make sure we’re doing this right. That’s why it’s so important to us to hear from the neighbors. Now. That is Lindsay Webb, lucas County Treasurer, speaking in July of 2019 during these initial focus groups.

So they went ahead and had the feasibility study and they had the design collective, which is a local architectural firm or whatever, come up with some concepts. So they came up with these concepts. There was one, two, three, four, five, six, seven different concepts with different things, like they had like turn it back into a place of assembly and worship, which I totally disagree with even trying to do that. I don’t see spending tax dollars on a church building in order to turn it into another church building. So the one that got the highest score in the feasibility study that was done, and this was done in 2020, june of 2020 is when this was finished and they came up with.

The one that scored the highest was concept number two and it says renovate to assembly, worship, multi-purpose, which is concept one, plus a small addition with a flex plaza is what it’s called, and basically it would have there would be there’s a little bit of vacant land. There used to be a school attached to this church and they tore the school down many, many years ago, so they had this, this vacant land to the north of the church, and this concept to would put a small building on the west side of this vacant area and then have a plaza, because you got to have, they want to have multiple events, so you have to have an indoor, outdoor space, you have to have a commercial kitchen to do catering, bathrooms that are to code and accessible, and and then you still have the church building itself that you could use. Anyway, so for concept two, activities they had have a market, indoor outdoor farmers market, antiques, art and culture, have a training, education center, community celebrations, movies and multimedia displays, theater, school assemblies, health fairs, climbing wall Now, keep a note of that climbing wall, will come back to that Yoga, aerobics, pilates, trade shows, worship, weddings and family reunions. All good, multi-use, you know, multi-purpose uses of this building, and so that is the concept that scored the highest the community wanted. However, on the list of cons, it said it still only speaks to two or four focus group needs, which is a problem, because if you have four things that the community wants and you can only address two of them Church and parish, provided focal point of the neighborhood, poor housing services that do not attract new residents and new buildings, access to quality of life services, not just mental health services, hope and trust this is what do you think the reuse of this building can do to meet that need? And, and they say, focal point gathering place, business development, youth education, recreation and skill development, adult workforce development. And then they had the three things that the community consistently stated they do not want, that’s, a cafe, a coffee house or housing organizations that will promote gentrification, and so then they had these themes. It was, and these are the questions that these concepts are supposed to address Safety, sustainability, ownership and leadership. And so that concept too, with the, with the small addition in the plaza, addressed only two of those four themes. So that was in June of 2020. And then we had the pandemic and it pretty much put things. That delayed a lot of things. And so we come back now to January of 2022 and they’re starting to pick up.

The Land Bank is going to pick up the St Anthony project once again to get going with it, and one of the things that they want to do is they want to sell it. So I did a records request from the Land Bank and got all these emails and and memos and things like that and basically they wanted to stabilize the building and get it fixed up because eventually they want to sell it, which is what a Land Bank does is they don’t own, they don’t control properties for very long. They want to do whatever needs to be done to fix it up, to get it ready, to redevelop it, and then they sell it In January of 2022 in some of the emails. One of the emails says in addition to the affordable housing project, we are also proposing to redevelop the St Anthony’s Church building for event assembly use once again, and that’s again that’s what the concept to in the feasibility. And then one of the people that works with the Land Banks, in an email in January, the 18th of 2022, said it may be helpful to lead off the community meetings for this project, referring back to work Land Bank Junction and others held to identify senior housing is the best and highest use for the site. I have found building from the previous meetings of peppering and the community need data priorities helpful in establishing guideposts for the discussion and gaining meaningful feedback. So their focus now is on affordable housing and meeting community space for this. So, again, that still fits in with that, that, that second concept that the feasibility study identified. So then we move ahead to March 2022 and there was an email where the Land Bank now realizes that they’re going to have to pivot and this is from an email in March of 2022, march 24.

Our fundamental approach to redevelopment at this site has been about making affordable housing work. However, we have had numerous conversations in which the unresolved nature of the former St Anthony’s building has complicated any possibility of affordable housing new development. So we’ve shifted. The Land Banks work over the next few months will be to put together an earmark request with Congresswoman Captor’s office. It will allow us to make and complete capital investment in the former St Anthony’s building in order to operate it as a community event space with a nonprofit partner. So now they’ve dropped the idea of senior housing or affordable housing and they’ve gone back to just being a basic community event space with a nonprofit partner. And it’s in March. We cut in 2022.

And then we come to January of 2023. This was the year after they had initially started talking about affordable housing and then, in March of 2022, they shifted to going back to the community event space. Now, in January of 2023, they put out a memo to this company, this recreational company called Aventus. It says, shortly after the Land Bank acquired the property in 2018, we began conversations with Aventus climbing about their goal to meet local market demand for climbing gym spaces. Aventus has since publicly announced plans to build and operate a new for-profit climbing gym facility in Lucas County.

Aventus has continued to express an interest in the St Anthony’s building space as a potential second climbing gym location that would be cooperated with their first facility. Aventus has suggested that the unique nature of this cathedral scale building would make it a destination for climbers throughout the country and perhaps the world. So they went from talking about a possible climbing wall to turning it into a climbing gym. That means the whole space would be dedicated to climbing activity, and so I guess it would not be a community gathering space anymore Because Aventus, the company, put out a memo of their own with their proposal, and their proposal was to either lease, have a long-term lease on the building or outright purchase it. So basically, a for-profit company that provides climbing activities would purchase this building in a distressed neighborhood that needs other things besides recreation and it would be closed off to the community. Now they talk about having memberships and having donations for those memberships and then possibly creating a special neighborhood membership. But the fact is that they would purchase this building, this church that’s already had hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and Marcy Captor got an earmark for $4 million in the last budget in Washington to go to a state, you know, rebuilding this church and they would sell it to a for-profit company that then would control who could access the building For a foreseeable future either a long-term lease or they would purchase the property outright.

Now that fits in with the goals of the lamp bank. They want to. They don’t want to hold on to things too long. They want to market for redevelopment. That’s their job is to gather these properties, these distressed, vacant properties, and turn them around and sell them for redevelopment. That’s great, I don’t have a problem with that. But if you’re going to campaign to save a church building, to turn it into, and the community says you know, we want to keep it as a focal of the neighborhood, as a meeting and gathering place, and you end up selling it to a for-profit company for recreation, that just slaps the neighborhood in the face. That just slaps them in the face and the way it’s coming across too.

There was an article in the Toledo Blade that announced all this. This is what got me started talking about this, and so they did an article in the Toledo Blade where they made it sound like the neighborhood wanted it too. Yeah, it says Toledo’s Historic St Anthony Church I’d for climbing gym and this was dated June 15th of 2023. And that’s when the land bank approved up to $300,000 or $299,500 for Toledo, based from the collaborative, to study the church, to see if a climbing gym could work and draw up plans. And so then they talked to David Mann, who was the president of, or in charge or executive director of, the land bank, and says Mr Mann said the land bank has talked with Adventus, a company currently building a climbing gym near Wildwood Preserve Metro Park, about eventually customizing the old church as a second large climbing facility in the city, a much smaller gym with a different owner and a different climate.

Climbed Toledo has operated since 2021 in North Toledo. Mr Mann said Adventus would like a second climbing gym facility. They believe St Anthony offers such a unique environment that it could become a national destination for climbing. And of course, they tried to talk to Adventus and couldn’t get ahold of them, says we’ve had multiple meetings. Now this is Lindsay Webb, lucas County Treasurer, who also leads the land bank’s board, says this we’ve had multiple meetings with the neighborhood about the climbing gym proposal.

People were skeptical, but there’s been lots of discussion on how to integrate the neighborhood into the space. Another board member, mike Beasley, said something that brings people into the core of the community and also can present opportunities for people in the neighborhood is worth exploring. When I’m bereft of ideas on how to retask spaces like this, it’s amazing They’ve come to the conclusion that they need to get a climbing gym into this church building when nobody none of the stakeholders that matter want a climbing gym or have indicated that they want a climbing gym. A climbing wall, maybe, but there’s also climbing wall for free that can be used by the neighborhood for free. At a community center two or three blocks away of the Frederick Douglas Center on Indiana Avenue, they have a climbing wall and it’s free. So, basically, and the problem with the St Anthony site, too, is a lack of parking, but there’s some vacant land across the street that probably will be turned into parking. You never know.

Land bank owns that land too, but it just amazes me, and so when I saw this article in June about them putting in a climbing gym, I had I did a public records request from the land bank, and so that’s what I found. I found that, most a year ago, a climbing gym wasn’t even on the horizon, and it wasn’t until January of this year 2023, that that’s when they started doing it. And then they say in the memo that after they purchased the property in 2018, the land bank started conversation with a Ventus. Now that’s interesting, because why have all these community meetings to find out what you want to do with this church if they’ve already made their decision? And so that is something that probably the community needs to find out is did they already have this already figured out? And so they were doing these community meetings just for show? But that’s the update on St Anthony’s church.

And again, I don’t disagree with reusing churches. It happens all the time. You have theaters, coffee shops. There’s an old church that used to have photography equipment down in Columbus that I used to go to. There was an old church and you could buy cameras and lighting stuff and everything. It was a business. I disagree on using taxpayer dollars to save churches. If people want to get together and donate money to save a church, more power to them. Just leave the taxpayers out of it. But if you do want to use taxpayer dollars, then you at least need to talk to the stakeholders and the community that’s going to be affected by this saving of this church or whatever you’re using this tax dollars for. And if you do talk to the community, you should listen to what the community has to say.

0:26:22 – VO
For more information about the topics in this episode, including links used, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanistshow.

0:26:36 – Douglas
Hello again, this is Doug. Just wanted to add an epilogue to our story that you just listened to, concerning the update on the redevelopment of the formerly Catholic Church, st Anthony’s Catholic Church, in the Junction neighborhood. I still believe that the land bank is ignoring the community, the stakeholders, and allowing this company, a Ventus, to come in and try to put in a climbing gym, a private, for-profit climbing gym. I personally don’t think that that is something that that community needs and, as you heard in the episode that there’s at least a couple of community members who also agree and, in general, when they were having their focus groups and everything, that was one thing they didn’t want. They wanted meeting space, a focal point, and so I had done a lot of this information that I had in the episode I obtained through a public records request from the land bank, and they sent me emails and documents and things like that. So that’s how I discovered that they had entered into an agreement or an understanding with Ventus, the company, to possibly put a climbing gym in there. And so my question was that in the document it said that when they purchased the building from the Archdiocese of Toledo, they had always had the idea of having a climbing gym in there which didn’t. That smelled fishy to me. That’s what got this whole thing going, this whole event me looking into this and so when I finally got the public records, it shows that that’s what that memo said. But now I saw I had asked for clarification from the land bank and they directed me to their minutes that are online from past meetings. So I went and looked for meetings that were specifically addressing St Anthony’s church and kind of find out that in the website that they have for redeveloping they said in February of 2023, a Ventus came to them and indicated an interest in putting a climbing gym in that church. So there is a conflict between the memo of understanding that they put out, the land bank put out, and the timeline of events. So I’m not sure what’s going on and that’s why I’m concerned.

Again, as I stated, one of the first things secular humanists of Western Lake Erie did was we opposed using tax dollars to save this church. It’s an old church, it’s an old building and there’s not much. I mean it’s one of these huge Gothic style church buildings. So there’s not much you can do with it and the feasibility studies showed that there wasn’t much that you could do with it. That wasn’t gonna cost a lot of money. So whatever they do, they need to do it for the community and what the community wants, and that is not a for-profit climbing gym.

And so there was some other things mentioned in the minutes about an ad hoc committee giving a report, but there was no reports in the minutes, so I don’t know what the discussion was, what the deliberation was. It didn’t appear to me. Now I run a nonprofit, the secular humanists of Western Lake Erie, and so we do minutes too and we don’t put all details in the minutes. But I would have thought I was expecting, if they had this ad hoc committee giving a report, that there would be like a summary attached to the minutes. There was not, so it’s still a question to me.

But I just wanted to tell you that I did look into this further to make sure that I wasn’t causing any distress to people that I didn’t need to cause distress to. But it looks like somebody knew somebody and they said you know, we got this old church, let’s put a climbing gym in. Hey, I know somebody who has one, and I think that’s what happened in this case. They just, it’s like, why have the focus groups, and why have the feasibility study if you’re not even going to abide by it? So we will be keeping up. The secular humanists of Western Lake. Erie and myself. I will be keeping an eye on this situation and see what happens from there.

0:31:33 – VO
Thank you for listening. For more information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanistshow. Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the secular humanists of Western Lake. Erie Shole can be reached at humanistswleorg. Glass City Humanist is hosted, written and produced by Douglas Burger and he’s solely responsible for the content. Our theme music is Glass City Jam, composed using the Amphi Studio. See you next time.

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Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley

The GCH theme is “Glass City Jam” composed using Ampify Studio

This episode by Glass City Humanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.