In December we shared the story of Mel Lalich, the small-time real-estate investor who bought a ramshackle mansion on Franklin Boulevard with dreams of seeing it become the youth hostel that Ohio City boosters have long envisioned.
Lalich plunged tens of thousands of dollars into fixing up the longtime boarding house, then secured a ready buyer.
But problems arose when the second-in-command at Cleveland’s Building and Housing Department outlawed Lalich’s intended use for the building — never mind that the same city department had already approved Lalich’s plans.
Not so coincidentally, the city official happened to be Ronald O’Leary, who lives across the street from the house in question. It seems he and other neighbors would rather see the place used as a single- or dual-family residence, which it hasn’t been since Bob Hope was playing the Vaudeville house down the street. Lalich believes its 11 bedrooms and institutional floor plan make it impossible for one or two families to call home, and he would likely be correct.
Lalich says O’Leary’s meddling scared the hostel buyer away, and that O’Leary himself had the permits changed to allow a hostel — and only a hostel — as soon as the buyer disappeared. Now Lalich is fighting to have his original permit reinstated, while trying unsuccessfully to find another suitor. A long-awaited sitdown this week with the Board of Zoning Appeals went nowhere.
Which is not to say the vacant home hasn’t drawn attention: Thieves broke in through a basement window last week and stole its copper piping.
“The place should have been sold four months ago to bring in people from all over the world to enjoy our city,” says Lalich.
“What’s the alternative with this house? Leave it vacant? Have people vandalizing it? That’s what’s happening now. It’s like a never-ending episode of The Twilight Zone.” — Erich Burnett