Everything that Community Development does has been previously approved by the administration and, most times council. “We’re not independent free agents, we’re not able to just go willy-nilly. Development deals are all above the threshold that requires council approval: the sale of land requires council approval, administration approval, Board of Control. So, first perception that we’re these rogue agents just doing whatever we want is definitely misplaced in a statutory city where we are the City of Lorain; we’re not separate and apart, we’re not different. We find it, sometimes amusing, as people say ‘There goes Community Development again, doing whatever it is that they do.”
So said Don Romancak, and with that, my interview with the group of folks that staff Lorain’s Community Development Department began. I asked for the interview so that a lot of misconceptions and misperceptions floating around could be corrected and/or cleared up, and to be able to write about the responsibilities they have to and for the City. I have to admit that I felt like a visiting dignitary or celebrity because I believe I met everyone, with the exception of the support staff. Sandy Prudoff, Chris Bauer, Janine Mackert, Don Romancak, Doug Rangel, Drake Hopewell, Larry Mitoff, Howard Goldberg and Rey Carrion, all either sat down to talk or were kind enough to stop in and introduce themselves and offer whatever help I may need in the future.
Sandy Prudoff -“The building in that picture (pointing to a large wall poster) used to be the Tivoli Theater that was torn down, and with Council’s approval, we built that building back in on that parcel. So the City owns that, we lease that. The building to the right of that (another poster) is the Duane Building. If you may recall, that building burned, it was entirely gutted. With City Council’s approval, and the Mayor’s, we loaned Jon Veard about $1.4 million, he put in himself several hundred thousand, and he’s been paying that back. And it’s always been a dream of ours to restore that. A hobo had got in there, and was lighting charcoal on the wood floors to keep warm. And the shellac on the floor caught fire, … that building was almost destroyed. So with Council’s approval, that’s one of the examples of some of the things that we’ve done. What we would like to do is the Black River Master Plan; the City owns all of this here (pointing north out the window) which was acquired in a deal with the Cleveland Port Authority. And we, the City, have a $6 million debt on this site, which is 30 acres. So, eventually we hope to have a development, which would be a mixed-use development on that. But those are the kinds of large undertakings that we do. We do a lot of smaller things in housing. Howard Goldberg and Drake Hopewell go and look for lots. On Reid, between 9th and 10th, we built 6 homes there, sold to private owners.”
Chris Bauer – “That was a focused-impact for housing.”
Sandy Prudoff – “We’re doing that on 10th and Brownell. We bought where the school was, we sub-divided into 9 lots. We have one being built, we have a second one with a commitment (to the lot) to build a house there. Probably by the end of this year, we should have 4, 5 or 6 homes on that site, all privately owned. One thing about Drake, which is indicative of most of the staff here, and Doug doesn’t work for us, he works under contract with us. His agency is independent. He takes care of all the financing and business loans. However, he plays an important role because he helps us structure major developments.
“Drake, as an example, he normally works here 8 hours, he is in charge in the evenings and weekends of all sales. So he’s out weekends and evenings, meeting with people, showing houses. So when we do have it happen, if someone were to break in a house, he’s on call, he has to go out there, and take a look at what’s going on. He’s also in charge of rehab. We provide probably 15-20 homes a year, or more, we provide to families that own their homes, we’ll loan them up to $25,000 towards the repair of their homes. We do the bidding, we do the spec writing, we present the bids to the property owner, through the Board of Control. All of that is authorized by City Council.
“Something else that Drake did that was off the charts, that was different from this, was that last year, when that sanitary line broke on Oak Point Road, on behalf of the City, as authorized by City Council, Drake monitored the loans from a fund provided by the Utilities Department, to those property owners who had their properties damaged by the sanitary backup in their basements and living rooms and condos on Oak Point Road. So his staff was in charge of all of that.”
In regards to my comment that a lot of people in the city aren’t familiar with what the job or responsibilities of the Community Development Department:
“We used to put, once a year, a full-page, [actually] a number of pages of what we did, in the newspaper. We stopped doing that because it got very expensive. But the public [thought], generally, is ‘out of sight, out of mind, I don’t understand it.’ It’s really unfortunate because in a declining economy, and it’s tough enough when the economy is robust, in a declining economy we are always struggling in this department to breach that attitude that we need to invest in ourself as a community, to promote development, promote neighborhood stability, that takes an investment by City Council out of the General Fund, to combat, what is essentially, the result of a declining industrial base. Don and Doug, along with Chris Bauer, are heavily involved with IRG, that bought the Ford Plant. Right now there are about four companies that either are, or about to locate in there, totaling about 200 jobs, approximately. Each company that locates out there, almost each company that locates out there, one went out there on their own, but was a referral through here, has a development agreement that City Council has to approve, so we’re heavily involved with IRG. And hopefully, we’ll also be supervising a $9 million clean-up grant down there. Jan worked on, and secured a $3 million grant from the state to be applied towards a $9 million clean-up process.”
Jan Mackert – “The whole process is $11 million.”
Sandy – “So we’ll be monitoring that, and then another division, Rey Carrion’s department, will do the prevailing wage monitoring, and we have a construction division in here that oversees construction and Doug and Don will explain it when we get to the Industrial Park that we now own and are improving. That construction division will oversee the work that’s being contracted out, not just the prevailing wage, but to make sure that the grant that we have secured, and all of the other money that the company is putting in, is done in a manner that follows the contract, and if there are any exceptional or unreasonable change orders, or deviations from that. If there are, then they will have to go back to Council to be approved.”
Next installment – The Departments that comprise Community Development