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The Suburbanite
  • Former Hoover plant primed for renewal

  • Six years after the Hoover Co. plant closed, its owner says it will begin construction this spring that will convert much of the aging plant into apartments, stores, restaurants and offices.
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  • The "Home of Hoover Appliances" is now a home to pigeons.
    Feathered intruders have made the large storage room on the fourth floor of the old Hoover Co. plant their aviary. The room is part of the 60 percent of the 1.44-million-square-foot, 69-acre Hoover District complex that's still vacant.
    The roof leaks. Water from melting snow poured into several rooms around the massive fourth floor earlier this month, resulting in large puddles in the former Hoover cafeteria and assembly line areas. Years without heat have led to paint flaking off the bricks. Segments of wooden flooring have risen. Cubicle walls, shelving, file folders and furniture are spread in disarray in vacated offices near where sections of the ceiling have been torn down.
    While the hundreds of thousands of vacant square feet may seem more suitable now as a home for birds, the developers who control the Hoover plant's owner, Maple Street Commerce, have a grander vision — converting the aging plant into a home for apartment dwellers.
    Peter Goffstein, a senior vice president for Industrial Realty Group, which is owned by one of the developers for Maple Street Commerce, said the developers plan to renovate 538,000 square feet at what has been dubbed the Hoover District. That includes 127 high-end apartments, premier retail spaces for restaurants and stores, state-of-the-art offices and covered parking lots — all by 2015.
    The IRG executive said Maple Street has already signed its first retail tenant — Covelli Enterprises in Warren, which is expected to open a Panera Bread franchise in the spring.
    Goffstein said developers Stuart Lichter, who's based in California, and Chris Semarjian, who's based in Macedonia, have lined up more than $50 million in financing. The money comes from the developers' own funds, bank loans, historic preservation tax credits and wealthy foreign investors through a State Department visa program. Maple Street can claim the tax credits because it successfully applied for the Hoover District to be placed in July on the National Register of Historic Places. Construction is scheduled to start this spring.
    SEVEN YEARS
    In 2006, TTI Floor Care acquired the Hoover brand from Whirlpool, which had bought Hoover's parent company Maytag. The next year, TTI announced it was moving nearly all Hoover operations to Glenwillow and shuttering the Hoover plant complex in North Canton, where Hoover had a presence since it was founded in 1908 by H.W. "Boss" Hoover. At its peak, the vacuum company whose Hoover brand became known worldwide had more than 3,400 employees in Stark County.
    In January 2008, Maple Street Commerce, owned mainly by Lichter, Semarjian and local developer Bob DeHoff, bought the Hoover complex from TTI for about $5 million. From the start, Lichter and Semarjian planned to develop it into offices, industrial manufacturing, apartments and retail stores. Lichter's IRG is working on a similar concept at a former Goodyear property in Akron.
    Page 2 of 3 - Goffstein said the mixed-use concept has taken off in areas like the Warehouse District in Cleveland, the Arena District in Columbus and The Banks in Cincinnati. He said their popularity is being driven by single professionals and empty nesters, who do not want to maintain a larger home and want a new apartment with amenities within walking distance of restaurants and shops. By placing apartments and retail stores near offices and industrial spaces, all that activity creates a vibrancy that attracts more people, he said.
    Goffstein said downtown North Canton is an ideal place for such a complex because it's in a central location and close to the North Canton YMCA, the North Canton Library and the Hoover Trail.
    "Here we have an opportunity to create a mixed-use environment where people can ... work, live and play," he said. "It's just a lifestyle that I think a lot of people want to live and employers want to provide for their employees. It gives them a place they want to come to everyday to work if it has restaurants and cafeterias sitting right outside their front door."
    Much of the developers' plans had to be postponed during the recession when financing became tight and the demand for apartments, office space and retail space softened, said Goffstein. But now, "we sense there's strong demand."
    In the meantime, Maple Street Commerce, with the help of a state grant, renovated roughly 40 percent of the Hoover complex space and rented it to about a dozen commercial and industrial tenants scattered among six buildings, Goffstein says.
    Maple Street announced the latest tenant last month: The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation signed a lease for about 32,000 square feet on the second floor of Building 16 on E. Maple Street.
    HOOVER'S FUTURE
    Goffstein said contractors will start construction on the west side of the Hoover complex and proceed east from N. Main Street. Lower floors will be developed before upper floors. The developers will keep the buildings' exterior facade with the famed smokestack. "Inside it's going to be completely modern," he said.
    The 127 apartments will rent for $800 to $1,200 a month and will be built on 190,000 square feet on the second, third and fourth floors, in what was once Hoover assembly line areas, an auditorium and offices. The units will surround a reconfigured open-air courtyard. Most will be two-bedroom units but there will be one-bedroom units and possibly efficiencies and three-bedroom apartments, said Goffstein.
    Much of the first floor will become covered parking spaces. About 30,000 square feet will become retail space — with perhaps a restaurant around the old Hoover power room and base of the smokestack. And 160,000 square feet will become commercial office space, including the old Hoover engineering department on the northwest end, which once tested secret Hoover prototypes.
    Page 3 of 3 - "This is going to be a really exciting place for users to want to be," said Goffstein. "There's going to be a scramble for whatever little space we have left."
    Goffstein said the structure is sound and the leaks and warped flooring won't impede development.
    MEMORY LANE
    Three former Hoover employees who accepted The Repository's invitation to tour the plant recently were taken aback by the large amount of flaking green paint covering a stairwell in Building 9 near the center of the complex.
    "This is unbelievable," said Jim Gensley, who was the president of the Hoover workers' union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1985 during the 1980s.
    Then they saw the rising floor boards on the third level.
    "Oh, my God!" said Stephen Russell, a senior Hoover planning engineer from 1980 to 2007. "I'm not sure that's safe to walk in."
    Jim Repace, the Local 1985 president from 1993 to 2008, and Gensley explained that the area was where frying pans and metal castings for sweepers were once assembled. The two said the scenes of deterioration were jarring after decades of Hoover managers insisting that the factory be kept in pristine condition.
    "There's some people who'd walk in here and start crying," Gensley later said.
    When the three got to the cafeteria on the fourth floor, which still had its salad bar, Gensley recalled the pies and the Hoover burger that was "bigger than a Big Mac." He also remembered a time when Repace threw a cafeteria chair at him due to a forgotten dispute on the factory floor.
    "I was a little wild back then," said Repace.
    They found one room that had somehow avoided significant deterioration — the kitchen of company founder Boss Hoover next to his old fourth floor office and his personal shower. And amid the musty, stale air, they saw assembly line equipment and conveyer belts that couldn't be auctioned still on the factory floors in Buildings 16 and 18 by Taft Avenue NE where they say 7,000 sweepers were once made a day. The eye wash safety sink remains mounted on the wall.
    "It's bittersweet," said Repace. "We'd really like to see the plant still in operation but it's a good thing ... that you have some people in here that are going to bring it back to life."
    Reach Robert at 330-580-8327 or on Twitter: @rwangREP

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