Stephanie Warsmith?and Rick Armon
Residents of the historic Mayflower Manor in downtown Akron might soon be looking for a new place to live.
City officials announced plans Tuesday that would renovate and redevelop the 16-story building. Residents, who are low income and disabled or elderly, would have to move from the 233-unit high-rise.
Akron officials will meet with residents at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Mayflower to explain the plans, which include providing residents relocation benefits and help with moving. Residents would have at least 18 months before they need to move.
The building, operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, needs a complete rehabilitation, including new electric, HVAC and plumbing — improvements that would be difficult and could pose a health hazard if residents were still living there, Mayor Don Plusquellic said in a telephone interview.
“No matter what the final use, it’s better for the residents if they have moved out,” he said.
The Mayflower was the city’s ritziest hotel when it opened in 1931 at 263 S. Main St. Its list of famous guests included Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Stewart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Shirley Temple, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Abbott & Costello, Amelia Earhart, Hopalong Cassidy, Marlene Dietrich and the New York Yankees.
Akron would like to buy the 82-year-old building and help a private developer rehabilitate it into a vibrant facility, the mayor said. These plans are dependent on a federal loan request the city plans to make and the finalization of an agreement with the Mayflower’s owner. An ordinance for the loan request will soon be introduced to the City Council.
“The long-term viability of the building is important for us to consider,” Plusquellic said. “We want to find a private developer to take over. We are not interested in being a developer.”
News surprises tenants
The building has about 250 tenants, several of whom were caught off guard by the news Tuesday. A few said they had heard rumors through the years about someone buying the building, but thought they were just rumors.
“Wow. That’s something to think about,” said Quanita Williams, 47, who has lived there for more than a year. “I like living here. It’s nice. The rent is reasonable and everything.”
Andy Naser works at the family-owned business Main Street Market, which rents space in the Mayflower. He said he expects many residents to be upset about the prospect of moving.
He also didn’t know what the purchase would mean for the convenience store.
The area has a bad reputation, because some of the low-income tenants loiter in front of the building. And there has been talk behind the scenes for years about how the city wanted to relocate people living there to further clean up that portion of downtown, which includes Canal Park and the popular Barley House.
The block has been given the derogatory name the “Low Rent District” because of the Mayflower, Naser said.
“I knew it was coming,” he said. “We all knew it was coming.”
Theodore Dobies, 83, has lived in the building for more than 15 years.
“I would say it would be pretty rough [for tenants],” he said while sitting in a wheelchair outside the management office. “I’m a veteran so I’m not worried about myself. For me, it’s easy; I can live in a veterans home.”
City officials met with social service and fair housing officials before putting out a news release Tuesday afternoon to get their input on the plans and see what assistance they could provide for the residents.
Residents will be offered the chance to relocate to three new or remodeled facilities — Valor Home (30 units for veterans in Firestone Park), Spring Hill Apartments (209 one- and two-bedroom units in the Lane/Wooster area) and Madaline Park Phases I and II (100 one-bedroom units off Tallmadge Avenue), according to a city news release.
Fred Rzepka, who owns the Mayflower, said he also will offer residents the ability to move into one of the other buildings he owns including one in Tallmadge as vacancies occur. He said he wants to make sure the residents are relocated into proper housing.
“We still have negotiations to do,” he said, referring to his talks with the city. “Look, it’s an old building and the city is really hopping right now. The mayor wants to do something and we are not going to be in the way for the mayor to do what he wants.”
Rzepka, who has owned the Mayflower for more than 30 years, said HUD recently inspected the Mayflower and gave it high marks for safety.
“The building is well-maintained and is safe,” he said. “The building is as safe as you can get a building of that age to be.”
Rose Juriga of the Tri-County Independent Living Center Inc. is concerned about the Mayflower residents finding housing they can afford and qualify for and moving out of downtown into areas in which they may not have access to public transportation.
“This is the poorest of the poor,” she said. “If you move them away from downtown in a time period of diminishing resources for getting food and access to transportation, the more vulnerable they become.”
Juriga said local housing advocates expected Mayflower Manor to go the same route as Canal Park Tower, a downtown building the city bought in 2004, relocated the residents and then tore down.
“We’ll work with anyone who seeks out our assistance,” she said. “We will make them aware of their housing rights. ... We are not going to sit idly by and watch vulnerable people be taken advantage of for economic development.”
Plusquellic, who acknowledges the Mayflower has long been a property he’s wanted to see redeveloped, said the city plans to work with local social service agencies and the owner to assist residents in relocating.
The mayor said the amount of the HUD 108 loan is still being determined, but he expects it to be able to cover the cost of the city buying the building, relocating the residents and at least beginning the rehabilitation. Once Akron takes over the building, he said, the city would put out a request for proposals from private developers, with the hope that one of them would step in to take over the project.
Plusquellic thinks an ideal use for the building would be to have offices on the first few floors, with some type of residential space on the top floors. He said there are no plans to demolish the building, though the city wouldn’t be opposed to taking part of the building down if this was part of the plan for redoing the site.
“All the success we’ve had downtown — this is just a continuation of that,” the mayor said. “All it takes is just a push, which the HUD money can do.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.