By Nick Dutro
Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership
To hear Andy Faber describe it, the project started with four friends. And a couple of beers.
Faber, an accountant and professor of accounting at Tiffin University, along with friends Kip Keiffer, owner of Kieffer Construction; Jeremy Marinis, now the superintendent of Calvert Catholic Schools; and Ron Schumacher, now president of Terra State Community College; had the idea to about five or six years ago to make an investment or start a business. With their varied professional backgrounds, there were many options on the table for what that investment could be, though renovation of a property in Downtown Tiffin was a strong contender.
The group toured a few properties, but most were dead ends. That was, until February 2017 when they came across a property located on a one-way street on the north side of the Seneca County Justice Center. It was four stories, with room for apartment units and a commercial space and centrally located in Tiffin’s thriving downtown, soon to be just steps away from the Frost-Kalnow Amphitheater on the East Green and splash pad at National Corner on Jefferson Street. With that, it didn’t take long for the partners to purchase 33 Court St. on March 20.
“We looked at other properties and this one made the most sense,” Faber said.
Later in 2017, the partners contracted with engineer Terrance Wright, owner of CES, LLC. The building would be broken up into two floors with two apartment units each and commercial space with a one-bedroom apartment unit on the first floor, making for five residential units total. With 20-foot ceilings on each floor, it was agreed that exposed ductwork, industrial accents, and as much of the original building would be used including in most of the original hardwood floors. Then, in each of the units, high end finishes including the kitchens and bathrooms would bring it together.
This project was truly a community effort. Early on, the four friends had been in conversation with Weston Reinbolt and Susie Reineke, who themselves had purchased and renovated six storefronts and 21 upper floor apartments in Tiffin. Their efforts to revitalize Downtown Tiffin earned them the Young Preservation Leaders award at the 2018 Heritage Ohio Annual Preservation and Revitalization Awards Ceremony. The partners also had formed a relationship with Andrew Kalnow, CEO of National Machinery, who also provided guidance.
Another relationship that began early on to their benefit was with First National Bank of Sycamore. Faber said their lenders and President Dean Keller shared the team’s excitement in building downtown. First National Bank of Sycamore were quick to provide a loan for the original purchase price and worked closely with the friends as many changes and modifications took place; in fact, some of those decisions happened right in the bank’s office.
From the time of purchase, the owners were in constant contact with Downtown Main Street Manager Amy Reinhart and President and CEO David Zak of Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership. One of the first issues that they aided in was in securing a $10,000 Façade Enhancement Grant through the City of Tiffin at the end of 2017. The previous owner, Charles Williams, had applied for the grant just prior to the purchase, so Reinhart stepped in to help make sure that the new owners could use it and walked them through the approval process with the Tiffin Architectural Board of Review. Through the Façade Enhancement Grant Program, which was recognized by Heritage Ohio in 2018 as the Best Public/Private Partnership of the year, the partners were able to replace all façade windows and repaired soffits.
Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership also helped the owners apply for a tax abatement on improvements to the building through the Community Reinvestment Area program. Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership helped to collect documents, file the correct paperwork with the Tiffin city engineer and Seneca County auditor, and again go through an approval process with the Architectural Board of Review.
The first tenants moved into their apartment in November 2018, not only leasing a loft apartment but also the commercial space on the first floor, Court Street Gallery. Modern artist Tom Hoffman uses the space to create and showcase his work and that of other artists. Hoffman previously had a gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and said he is excited to offer his gallery vision to residents of Seneca County and Northwest Ohio.
“I wanted a place to showcase my art and show other artists eventually,” Hoffman said. “I love Tiffin and think it’s a really great town; it’s blossoming, and I want to be part of that,” he added.
Hoffman has a degree in architecture from the University of Illinois and was first an interior designer with a thriving business but a move to Tiffin prompted him to put his art to the forefront.
Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz said he was excited about the art gallery and the renovation of the upper floor lofts.
“It is great that the city of Tiffin will have another attraction in its downtown, and we are pleased to see that a historic building has been brought back to life by members of our community,” he said.
The building is now fully leased and Court Street Gallery has been open for the public since the spring. But that’s not the end of the story for 33 Court St. The owners, as Tiffin Capital Investments LLC, received the Downtown Development Award at the 2019 Main Street Celebration and Downtown Summit Sept. 4. And the owners took home the Best Upper Floor Residential Rehabilitation Award at the Heritage Ohio Annual Preservation and Revitalization Awards Ceremony Oct. 22.
“While we have seen our share of challenges, we all would do this again,” Faber said. “All four of us had similar visions and goals, which has helped us work well together over this process. Each one of us sees this as an investment in our portfolio, but an investment that we can interact with. This has been a rollercoaster of emotions and energy, but one we would do again.
“From where the building was at purchase, to where it is today, it is something to be proud to be a part of.