West Side News

Metro West

Complex's fortunes reflected economy of West Side

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It was built almost 50 years ago on the West Side as Lincoln Park West, a dream of local developers Seymour Luckoff and Buddy Roth.

It attracted professionals and well-paid workers from area manufacturing plants with amenities seldom found then in central Ohio apartment complexes -- an indoor pool, social activities, pancake breakfasts and a feeling of community.

But as the fortunes of the West Side declined over the decades, so did those of Lincoln Park West. The good-paying jobs vanished when employers such as White Westinghouse left in 1988 followed by Delphi in 2007.

As the property changed hands through the years, its name changed as well: Shannon Way; Darby Woods; back to Lincoln Park West when developer Tom Fortin owned it briefly from 2000 to 2002; Wingate Village and finally, Metro West, where 465 apartments are scheduled to be demolished in a couple months at the behest of Prairie Township.

Wingate LLC of New York owns the 100-acre, 1,732-unit apartment complex.

Nick Tambakis, chief operating officer of Wingate LLC, said the company is in the midst of selling the property. He suggested the apartments being razed, which are on Westport Road, and other units on up to 30 acres might someday be replaced by "affordable" senior housing.

"We have a buyer," Tambakis said. "It's under contract and moving along."

Prairie Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker is skeptical.

"I'm a cynic about this," Hatmaker said. "They've said they had buyers before, and then the buyers were elusive."

The remainder of the complex is in Franklin Township, which is not pushing for demolition. Tambakis estimated that the remaining units are 60 percent occupied.

He said a couple of prospective buyers are interested in the frontage along Georgesville Road. A market study suggests a budget hotel would complement a potential high-end hotel at the nearby Hollywood Casino Columbus, which was built on the former Delphi site.

Wingate is an affiliate of Matrix Realty, which Tambakis said has been incorrectly identified as the property's owner.

The corporation bought the complex in 2005 and has put $10 million into repairs and renovations, he said. However, litigation involving the estate of a principal in the corporation has slowed those efforts, he added.

"We weren't able to keep the property up like we wanted," Tambakis said.

The units being torn down were found to be structurally unsound and uninhabitable.

Fortin remembers riding around Lincoln Park West in trucks from his father's business when he was 12 years old, helping to install ornamental ironwork on the buildings.

"It was a very vibrant community of very happy people," Fortin said. "There was a lot of social and recreational activities that kind of bonded residents. Residents just loved living there."

By the time he bought the property in 2000, occupancy was down to 22 percent. Most of his tenants were first-generation Latinos and Somali immigrants.

He empathized with them. His grandparents, the Fortunatos, had emigrated from Sicily.

He provided free apartments for social workers to use as offices, food and clothing pantries and a job-procurement center. The occupancy rate rose to 87 percent as immigrants flocked to the complex. Deportation was not a big fear in those days.

Then 9/11 happened.

"Peaceful, hard-working, fantastic parents, church-going people all of a sudden had a target on their back, " Fortin said.

Fortin sold his interest in the property in 2002 after then-Columbus Police Chief James Jackson blocked attempts to annex it into the city, saying he didn't have enough officers to patrol the massive complex. Fortin was seeking lower water and sewer rates.

Two years later, a fire in one unit killed 10 people and added to its sagging reputation.

Soon after, Wingate bought it and renamed it Wingate Village and, later, Metro West.

West Side automobile dealer Chris Haydocy said demolition "is the only path to take. It was 30 years of a downward spiral."

"If the only amenity you have to sell an apartment, house or a car is the lowest price, it's not sustainable," Haydocy said. "People want jobs, walkability, restaurants, shopping and safety."

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