Condos coming to historic site
02 Jun 2023 — Sandusky News Register
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Andy Ouriel

SANDUSKY - Rather than smashing a sizable and storied structure, one developer believes the fruits of his labor should pay great community dividends.

Jeff Krabill recently unveiled details for a project known as Grape Lakes Condominiums at 1702 Campbell St. in Sandusky. It's formerly known as Meier's Wine Cellars.

Krabill - a longtime city resident who's served the community in many different ways, including as an Erie County elections board member and Sandusky Schools athletic booster - acquired the building in 2021.

Initially condemned in 2013, and sitting vacant for many more years before then, not too long ago, Krabill began pursuing a complete top-to-bottom renovation. He effectively saved this once-blighted building.

His plans involve turning the area into a mixed-use site, featuring residential components upstairs and street-level office space below.

But why the name Grape Lakes Condominiums?

• Grape pays homage to the building's history as a wine cellar.

• Lakes offers a salute to the property's proximity to Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes, which sounds like "Grape Lakes."

• Condominiums as it'll offer such homes there soon.

Through the Erie County land bank, which helps restore abandoned and/or dilapidated land into tax-producing properties, this project received $500,000 in state funds for revitalization purposes.

"We couldn't be more excited to assist with the Meier's Winery project," said county treasurer Caleb Stidham, who oversees land bank matters. "The site has been a nuisance to the neighborhood for many years. The property's redevelopment will serve the residents of that area well for years to come."

Krabill went into great detail on various aspects of this project and what's to come:

Developing for a reason

• Part 1: "There are few larger buildings remaining in the Sandusky area that aren't already being developed or have been developed. For example, the condo project in which I was involved in downtown, Lake View Condos. In the mid-1990s, when we acquired the property, there were literally dozens of large, historically significant buildings. But not so much any longer. The Meier's Wine Cellars property is/was one of only a few that remained."

• Part 2: "On top of that, I just like old buildings. They have character that new buildings don't. As such, the Meier property had fascinated me for a decade or more. I just wasn't in a position to develop it. Maybe it was divine intervention, but, somehow, the building became available when my timing was right."

• Part 3: "On another level, this property was a blight on the surrounding neighborhood. Cleaning up those kinds of sites, such as Lauralee's Legacy House, gives me great satisfaction. While the city of Sandusky is making an effort to bolster areas of town that seem to have been forgotten over the years, there is no reason that private investment can't be doing the same thing. It's good for the developer, it's good for the community as a whole, and it's great for the immediate neighborhood. Win-win-win."

Note: Earlier this year, Krabill finished up work at a home he owns, on Hayes Avenue (Ohio 4) directly across from Firelands Regional Medical Center in Sandusky. He calls it Lauralee's Legacy House, a place people can rent out through a transient rental process. Lauralee Krabill passed away in 2021. Beloved in the community, in 2022, Sandusky Career Center dedicated its nursing skills lab to her, a nurse and educator.

Saving the structure

• Part 1: "With all of the history that has taken place at 1702 Campbell St., the most recent couple of decades haven't been particularly positive for the building or the neighborhood. The property was abandoned in large measure due to the challenges of dealing with solvents, paints and the like. And those very uses made the building unattractive for many."

• Part 2: "On the other hand, my research showed that, while the building had many problems over several decades, those problems were all readily addressed. Prior owners had abated the asbestos issues; the state of Ohio, during its ownership, had all of the solvents removed from the premises; and only a couple of relatively small issues remained for me when I acquired the building."

• Part 3: "The big 'X' (which denotes a blighted property) on the corner of the property seemed a bit over-the-top given the abatement efforts that had been undertaken, but that also was a blessing because most other parties were scared away by it. There was even some talk about demolishing the property, but the cost for that was extraordinary."

• Part 4: "When I acquired the building in December 2021, I inherited a mess. There was very little square footage that wasn't either covered in trash or wet from a collapsing roof. I suspect that condition also led to much of the speculation that the building would be demolished. Also confusing was my application for and award of a state 'demolition' grant. Just the term 'demolition' led many to believe it was destined for a wrecking ball. But that was never the plan."

• Part 5: "Instead I already knew what might be economically feasible in a building of this size at a location outside the downtown area. I've been working on that ever since. And, by the way, the building is a concrete, brick-and-steel fort. It is hard to imagine what it would take to demolish it."

• Part 6: "This building has been a significant part of the area's history and as such deserves another chance at greatness. Anyone can demolish a building, but the magic is in something my father always said, 'Turning a pig's ear into a silk purse.'"

Pursuing the project

• Part 1: "I have no partners, though I'm not averse to partners, it just hasn't worked out that way. As for the business entity that owns the property, it is called Fixler Properties. That name is my mother's maiden name and is a little nod to that part of my family that has meant so much to me over my lifetime."

• Part 2: "Structurally, the entire building will be condominiums, both residential and commercial. Its use will be diversified between residential condos on the top floor, seven in total, and some combination of commercial spaces on the bottom and middle floors. I have been either contacted by or have myself contacted by professionals needing office space, health care providers, vineyards - think wine tasting - restaurants, etc."

• Part 3: "What the final complement of end uses might be will play out over the next several months as our realty efforts roll out. There are over 80 parking spaces planned on the 1 acre behind the building."

Digging into the details

• Part 1: "Site demolition and clearing of the inside is well underway already. In fact, we have already begun reconstruction with contracts being let out for a new roof and establishing utilities into the property. Ideally, the project would be completed in late 2024, but that is a bit of a moving target given our sales efforts, interest rates and the like. I could easily see some of the project being done in phases such as top-floor condos first, other spaces later. This could easily cause the completion to extend into 2025."

• Part 2: "While I would rather not speculate on what the ultimate cost of restoration might be, it will be well into seven figures. Financing will be from a combination of sources like my own resources, bank financing and government support where appropriate, such as the state demo grant. Those discussions are ongoing. My vision and efforts have so far been met with general approval from local government entities, sources of financing and even condo buyers who have already heard about my plans. I'm encouraged."

• Part 3: "More importantly, though, is the economic impact it can have for the neighborhood and the community more generally. Not only the initial investment to get restoration completed but also the future payroll, purchase of goods and services, and taxes will be significant. There are far fewer other options for the property that could generate as significant a return as a restoration will. I think planners refer to this as the density of the economic impact. This could be something really special in a place no one would have thought to invest."

• Part 4: "When I first thought about what the building could become, success wasn't in very sharp focus. As we have carefully proceeded with planning, discussions with contractors, meetings with our architect and other professionals, it has become more tangible. And so too has the feedback from interested buyers/renters. Make no mistake, this is a big lift. It will not be easy. It is complicated. But if my drive to complete Lauralee's Legacy House is any kind of indicator, the Meier property will be a happy story for our community."

History lesson

Krabill provided some history on the former Meier's Wine Cellars building:


The brick and stone building at the corner of Boalt and Campbell streets by the railroad tracks in Sandusky spent most of its life at the center of much of Ohio's wine industry.

Originally built in 1906, the building has had a surprising number of owners over the past century and all but a couple of which were connected to vineyards or the making of wine.

But the Meier's ownership was for a relatively brief time relative to the long history of the building.

1906 to 1929

The building, as we know it, was built circa 1906 by a group of four vineyard owners who felt they were not getting enough for their wine grapes.

The new venture was called the Bass Island Vineyards Co. Three of the owners operated vineyards on North Bass Island and one owned the Mon Ami vineyard on Catawba Island. All of this was occurring during a time that there were at least 23 vineyards operating on the Lake Erie islands.

The year 1908 saw the addition of a loading dock to the building.

The Volstead Act, which led to the passage of the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, triggered the sale of the company to interests in Buffalo, New York. The company operated until 1929 when it went through dissolution.

Prohibition itself was reversed with the ratification of the 21st Amendment on Dec. 5, 1933.

1930 to 1939

Toward the end of the 1920s, rumors began that Bass Island Vineyards was for sale, including an article in the Sandusky Star Journal announcing the sale in late 1927. Yet it wasn't until 1933 that a sale of the building and assets actually occurred.

K.K. Culver, of Columbus, purchased the assets, renaming the facility Sandusky Wineries, by a local group that operated the winery.

The corporate secretary-treasurer was Frank S. Hafner, a name perhaps familiar to many Sandusky residents.

Unique to Sandusky Wineries was the 450 acres of vineyards they owned on the Isle of St. George. They only processed their own grapes, even selling some grapes to interests in the Cincinnati area. There are some references to another 350 acres of vineyards on North Bass Island though the details of that are few.

1940 to 1969

In December 1939 a group of local investors bought out Sandusky Wineries from Culver, which at the time was considered one of the largest winery transactions in a number of years.

By August 1940, everything started to unravel for the new ownership with the suspension by the State Securities Division of trading of both "no par" and "preferred stock."

Within six weeks' time, Culver filed a foreclosure action for recovery on a note, of about $117,000, that hadn't been paid. The net result of all this resulted in the purchase of assets by Meier Wine Co. in Silverton, Ohio, near Cincinnati.

Local newspaper accounts reveal one other bit of misfortune when on Oct. 6, 1962, at the Meier Wine Cellars.

1970 to present

In roughly 1973, the property once again changed ownership when Donald and Donna Yontz purchased it, this author believes from the Meier Wine Co., though confirming details couldn't be found.

Then, one year later on April 1, 1974, the property was purchased by James Roberts along with Joseph S. And Nancy Shepherd, which itself became a formal partnership in 1993.

By the turn of the 21st century, the name Ultimate Industries was added to county records. This business was the last named business to operate in the building. Their business was the fabrication of fiberglas artificial rocks and water features.

In 2007, Ohio's secretary of state canceled this status as an Ohio business for failure to file their taxes. The building itself sat vacant, eventually being declared abandoned and becoming the property of the State of Ohio in February 2017.

Ohio continued ownership until December 2021 when Fixler Properties acquired the property via an Erie County auditor's sale on that date.

This story is provided free courtesy of The Sandusky Register.
"Condos coming to historic site" Sandusky News Register 02 Jun 2023: A1