Dayton redeveloper Mike Heitz has pumped millions of dollars of his own money into places where others fear to tread — turning around long-abandoned properties that are beyond the eyesore stage.
He’s taking over abandoned industrial and commercial properties with market savvy, invests the millions — including more than $4 million in Clean Ohio grants — and is building a record for turning properties around faster than anyone can recall — lining up paying tenants or buyers.
As for economic potential, the turnarounds mean expanded employment and payroll. Besides that, they’re often the ones in view from interstates and major thoroughfares. Reuse has an out-sized impact on improving the city’s image.
“There’s more numbers in residential blight, but these are larger and more visible,” said Montgomery County Treasurer Carolyn Rice, who is also chair of the Montgomery County Land Bank.
The land bank is funded with $1.3 million in annual delinquent tax fees. It’s been working with Heitz to identify and walk the properties through the legal entanglements to get them back on the market.
Heitz has been the land bank’s major mover on the industrial/commercial side of the program. He also works closely with city of Dayton officials, who vetted his company, Rice said.
“It’s very exciting — the few we have done and the progress we have made in the short time,” Rice said.
Bringing properties back to life
Mike Grauwelman, the land bank’s executive director, credits Heitz for his skills at navigating complex procedures and potential environmental problems. When it comes to tough deals too daunting for most, Heitz is enthusiastic.
“A guy like Heitz isn’t afraid of that,” Grauwelman said.
“It takes an individual with knowledge of how to bring properties back to life,” said Steve Ireland, who is representing Heitz as a real estate agent at Miller-Valentine.
Heitz, a former West Virginia State University basketball player and avid long-distance cyclist, stands a towering 7 feet tall. The properties he’s acquired have towering problems — or so they seem.
The Dayton properties have been abandoned for years, sheltered scrappers and drug addicts, and in most cases were well beyond eyesore stage.
But nearly all of them have quick highway on-ramp access. Chainsaws work wonders on years of undergrowth, required environmental studies can turn up fewer real issues than imaginations conjured over the years, and good lighting and fencing will scatter vagrants.
Of the first eight properties in Dayton that Heitz and his company Garrett-Day LLC Properties have taken on since beginning in 2010 with the old Howard Paper building on Edwin C. Moses Boulevard - which was not a land bank deal - at least two have drawn buyers, one is about to be demolished for a business expansion, and the others are in various stages of demolition, marketing or negotiations.
Other high-profile demolitions by Heitz include the Love Boutique, a porn shop on Keowee Street that was known as McCook’s for decades, and the Royal Motel just up the road.
Heitz is preparing to demolish the vandalized and fire-scorched Harris Thomas Drop Forge Co., 1400 E. First Street, later this year. Next door neighbor Franklin Iron & Metal is ready to expand its recycling operation with a new building on the property and 10 to 15 additional employees, said Greg Clouse, general manager.
“For a piece of property that has been an eyesore for years, finally we can tear the building down and put up a building and put people to work,” Clouse said.
Ray Herring, 46, grew up across the street from an industrial complex on Home Avenue. Years ago, it was an event for neighborhood kids when the factories, including an airplane propeller-maker as well as a GM steering wheel supplier, blew the whistle at day’s end and the full parking lots emptied.
Herring’s mother has complained about the derelict property. Now, with the brush cleared, repairs to buildings underway, and fence repairs, it looks like things are moving in the right direction. Herring thanks Heitz.
“He’s a man of his word,” Herring said. “He’s taking care of what he said he would.”
A towing company has a lease with an option to buy one of the industrial buildings at 1801 Home Avenue close to U.S. 35.
Dayton Electroplate Inc., 1020 Valley Street, has been demolished. Concrete still needs to be taken up, but the property is in a “potential redevelopment area” known as the “DaVinci Project,” bounded by Interstate 75, State Route 4, the Mad River and Stanley Avenue, the city has said.
Acreage in the 800 block of Leo Street, where a warehouse was torn down, has much of the land and remaining buildings occupied by USA Freight, a trucking firm that delivers nationwide and employs about 30. Its Russian Turk owners bought the property they now occupy.
Typically, Grauwelman said, the properties are upside down with delinquent real estate taxes. The land bank sponsors the properties through foreclosure and enters into an agreement with Heitz in which he agrees to take ownership after the properties are foreclosed. Heitz pays the processing fee and begins work.
The land bank is off to a good start, Grauwelman said. It’s handled the eight commercial/industrial properties in Dayton, two in Harrison Twp., one in Farmersville, one in Clayton, two in Trotwood and one in West Carrollton.
‘Dayton is coming back’
At 63, Heitz has no intention of slowing down. He’s lining up many more blighted, overlooked potential gems.
His motivation? He believes it will work. And he intends to make money, too. Besides, he loves the Dayton area’s extensive bike trail network. Heitz says he thinks his deals through on his rides.
“”Dayton is like Houston was during the early 1980s,” said Heitz, during a recent tour of his properties. “Dayton is coming back. There is a lot of business coming in. I pattern this after Houston.”
Heitz should know. He worked for a time in the real estate trade during the Texas oil bust. Heitz can spot a bottom, he says, and saw Houston rise from a point of what some thought was a place of no return. He’s excited about the logistics potential of a community close to the I-70/I-75 interchange.
”Back when, everybody said Houston was down and wouldn’t come back. Here, too, you can see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Heitz is also experienced in investment banking. After beginning his professional career as an independent insurance agent for 11 years in Parkersburg, W.Va., he sold the business and started a second career in New York City, taking 18 small companies public.
After that, he settled in Lexington, Ky., where he lives with his wife Janette, who is active in the fine arts scene there. The two have helped sponsor charity missions to Buenos Aires, Burma, and Egypt.
Height runs in the family, he notes. His nephew is two-time All-Star NBA player Bradley Miller.
Heitz, point man and boss of the family business, runs a tight crew. He has help from son Cory and daughter Jordan who handle research and administrative business matters.
“We’re small, but we get a lot done,” Heitz said. “We just want to improve Dayton. We think it can happen.”
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