Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Troubled apartment complex purchased

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Connecticut developer has purchased Huntington Meadows in Bond Hill, adding its name to the long list of out-of-town owners who have tried - and mostly failed - to turn around Cincinnati's largest privately owned apartment complex.

MCR Property Management Inc. of New Haven paid the minimum bid of $2.6 million for the 1,169-unit complex at a sheriff's sale last week. There were no other bidders.

The sale comes amid news that state and federal authorities are investigating the previous owner, P.M. Group of Milford, Mich., to find out what happened to $3.5 million in federal housing money funneled through the city to renovate the complex in 1997.

The complex had been in bankruptcy, and its residents were evicted last year amid worries of environmental problems.

Indeed, a long succession of out-of-town owners - including Donald Trump - have found it difficult to manage the sprawling 23-acre property, which is east of the defunct Swifton Commons shopping center on Seymour Avenue.

It remains unclear how MCR will attempt to reverse that record. Company president Michael Belfonti refused to discuss his plans for the property Monday.

The Winn Co. of Boston had been the leading contender to buy the complex, but bowed out because city officials did not want to support more low-income housing.

"Our principal interest in this would have been in long-term affordable housing. And it was pretty clear that the city didn't want to see another tax credit project," said Larry Curtis, managing partner of Winn Co. "They got what they wanted, which was a market-rate developer."

Peg Moertl, the city's director of community development and planning, said the city hadn't received any formal requests for help from MCR.

"We'll see what transpires, but we are open to the opportunity for some kind of home ownership on the site," Moertl said. "But I also think there could still be an opportunity for some kind of mixed-income community there."

P.M. Group paid $11.7 million for the complex in 1997, and then used $3.5 million in city money and $17.5 million in tax credits to buy and remodel the complex. But five years later, the complex was in bankruptcy.

At the request of Cincinnati City Council, the FBI, Secret Service and Cincinnati police have launched an investigation into the circumstances of that failure.

"Like a lot of investigations, we're going into this with an open mind, and we'll let the investigation lead us to where it leads us," said Cincinnati Police Capt. Vincent Demasi. "There's a lot of money involved. And just from a human standpoint, a lot of our citizens were put out. For lack of a better term, we're fishing to see what went wrong."

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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