Sandusky finds success with blighted building rules

One of the most important laws Sandusky officials approved in 2012 helped fortify economic development while also enhancing community safety.
Andy Ouriel
Jan 4, 2013


About a year ago, Sandusky fire Chief Paul Ricci pioneered groundbreaking legislation calling for stricter enforcement against property owners vacating or ignoring blighted commercial buildings.

The law, which began in April, primarily aimed to improve neighborhood safety, since empty buildings entice criminal activity.

In the spring, firefighters counted 170 vacant or abandoned commercial structures in Sandusky.

A Register article in August provided an update on the young program, reporting that firefighters reduced the number to 96.

In 2013, the number of property owners violating the law has plummeted further, to 24. Within nine months the program has nearly solved the city's commercial blight issue.

The steep drop in violations resulted from firefighters mailing certified letters to the last known owners of the buildings in question. The letters ordered owners to spruce up their properties or otherwise face steep penalties through fines and possible criminal action.

Some owners, including those living in Michigan and Florida, responded by vowing to refurbish the properties.

"Owners are now taking a more proactive approach and maintaining their buildings," Ricci said. "They're selling their properties, renovating their properties, and going through the city's building department and getting certificates of occupancy for these properties."

The 24 property owners who remain in violation of city rules have thus far paid a collective $10,400 in fines. The funds help subsidize program expenses, such as firefighters' inspections and various paperwork filings.

Fines will increase depending on the degree of negligence on the part of property owners.

Smart entrepreneurs know this much: Vibrant businesses benefit the entire community, and well-maintained buildings — vacant or not — are a big part of that equation. When business is bustling and a city has its act together, it compels investors to relocate here.

Sandusky is a living testament to this.

Since summer 2011, roughly 25 entrepreneurs have invested in abandoned buildings or cleaned rundown structures, transforming them into successful businesses.

"The goal of this legislation was to identify these properties, target the owners of these properties, register them and make them safer for public services and resources," Ricci said. "A secondary benefit of this is, in some ways, it promotes downtown."

Among the dozens of property owners complying with the new rules, three talked to the Register about why they invested their time and resources into once-decrepit structures:

"It's important to keep these buildings up. You don't want people breaking into the property and becoming a nuisance." — David Wikel, owner of a six-acre factory and storage facility in the 1700 block of Camp St. 

"I believe that every project, regardless if it's moving your lawn or putting in new pansies, spawns and inspires someone else to make something better." — Diane Ackerman, who along with her husband, Gary, purchased multiple downtown Sandusky buildings to turn into office and business space. Among her projects was the creation of J Bistro on West Market Street.

"Downtown is obviously going through a renaissance, and we're really excited about it."  — Ryan Whaley, who continues to rehab a once-dilapidated East Water Street building, which will eventually serve as the main hub for his public relations company, Green Door Mediaworks.




Downtown certainly has potential if we could just fire bomb the hoodlums. I don't get why these people don't think they're part of the problem?


That is the problem. They DON'T think.


"fire bomb the hoodlums"? Wouldn't that be American genocide? I think a new Police Chief that is tough on crime, especially violent crime, will spin the safety of our city in a positive direction. I think if we also encourage the judicial system to start setting some examples, we may find the beautiful Lake Erie shores will be a suitable community for investors to believe in. I live here... I believe in us.


I guess it takes hitting these property owners where it hurts them , their wallets, to get them to move on cleaning up their places . Sad that it has to come to that , but you gotta do what you gotta do .


Kudos to Chief Ricci for taking a stand and holding the property owners responsible for the upkeep of their property.


Now if they will start tearing the derelict building like the keller down it would be a start.


Since the Chief did an such an excellent job on this project, maybe we could assign him to the vacant residential problems. Some of these houses have been in limbo for years and not moving at all. I would love for Chief Ricci to give the rental property owners a boot up. I am sure he would do an excellent job. The property owners just need an incentive to get them going in the right direction. If the city doesn't care, the property owners don't care. The Chief has the skills and the tools to get the job done.

"Construction crews should soon begin demolishing the blighted building where a police dog died in June during an unauthorized training exercise.

The $1.46 million project aims to remove the decrepit Apex Building and clean up the 13 acres of waterfront property on First Street, next to Lyman Harbor.

In December, Sandusky officials obtained a $1.09 million state grant to jump-start the project.

Famous Realty of Cleveland, which owns the land, contributed $323,000, while city taxpayers are fronting the remaining $45,000."

You people who pay taxes had better wise up to giving tax money to private companies. These private companies have enough money to tear down their buildings and clean up their land. The rich people are smiling all the way to the bank.
1643 First St, Sandusky, OH 44870
$5,495,000 15 AC
Commercial Re-Development opportunity for Condos, A Marina, Hotel-Entertainment Complex or Retail Services. Includes a 3-story 180,000 SF Historic Warehouse Bldg


The owners have gotten one heck of a deal from past years for getting very deep discounts on property taxes. The current valuation is still a huge discount. Look back on the past years.

What's in your wallet? What's in your tax bill?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Ah, the song "If I Had a Million Dollars" comes to mind. There is certainly no lack of creativity in the area and downtown us such a wonderful canvass upon which to paint. If I could only express the sheer amount of thought and creativity the young men and women talk about in our store about ways to develop this area. Not just in looks but in function, purpose, theme, and attraction/retention of the next generation. To an extent I can as I have been getting more involved with municipal leadership, but oh to put these thoughts in motions right now...

Kenny V

If only all this was true. I tried to get the ok to move forward with at least 1 business, in one of these newly purchased buildings. Only to get a direct "NO" from Cheif Ricci without as much as a meeting to discuss our plans. The building inspector told me I could move forward despite what Ricci said and it was wrong of ricci to say no with out a meeting. I spoke to chief ricci on the phone for 2 minutes on 1 call and 5 on the other call. I then told the building official who has the final say on opening, and if it had to have a fire inspection. In which he told me all commercial property's have to have a fire and safety inspection. To which I replied, So if I rock the boat and go against the chief off now he'll just work against me after I have invested thousands of dollars renovating, improving, and bettering the community. I actually had few different plans for the building and the possibility of 4 to 5 business's in this one building as well as some storage/garage rental space.

I told the building official I will go out in the township where the building and fire officials are willing to work with us.

Now the building once again sits all but abandoned. windows broken, doors kicked in, broken glass all around it and nothing to stop squatters, kids, or criminals from doing what they do in them. After the door was kicked in I went in and looked around, it looked as tho someone attempted to start a fire on the floor to get warm, or kids playing with matches. THANK goodness it didn't catch ablaze. because there would have been no less the 5 family without a home.

Thank you Sandusky City Officials for opening my eyes to your ways before I invested hard earned money into a City that will tell you "NO" with out a meeting.


Kenny, maybe a city commissioner should be looking into this for you.