Land Bank pumping millions into restoring local distressed properties

Bank makes deals happen across all market segments.

When quiet but important real estate deals need to happen, the Montgomery County Land Bank is often there.

Fueled by $18 million in federal funds, the bank is best known as being a vehicle for arranging the transfer of vacant, distressed homes, making demolition of “zombie properties” possible.

“Distressed real estate is kind of the global mission,” said Michael Grauwelman, executive director of the bank, known formally as Montgomery County Land Reutilization Corp.

When Sugar Creek Packing Co. wanted to beautify its West Dayton neighborhood, it worked with the Land Bank to make it happen, helping arrange the purchase of two vacant homes near the property of the bacon products manufacturer.

That deal with a sizable company was unusual. But Grauwelman expects to see more deals like it in the future.

Land banks were formed in a number of cities nationally in response to the Great Recession some 10 years ago.

But it’s not just about empty homes anymore. The bank finds itself involved in all market segments.

A lot of real estate segments are struggling, Grauwelman noted. The Internet has brought on what some call a “retail apocalypse,” with thousands of stores closing.

And stores remaining open see their footprints shrinking, changing the commercial model and bringing about a “fair amount of functional obsolescence.”

“It’s a pretty interesting time in the real estate business,” Grauwelman said.

The bank isn’t tearing down retail buildings. But it can be a platform for deals to re-use such buildings.

The bank recently transferred a property at 5134 Salem Ave. to the city of Trotwood, across from what used to be the Salem Mall.

It’s an 8,000-square-foot concrete commercial building, a former Christian book store, said Fred Burkhardt, of the Trotwood Community Improvement Corp. His organization is having the roof and HVAC system inspected.

Trotwood wants to see “job-generators” in the building, but development is still in early stages.

The transfer happened with the Land Bank’s help, he said.

“Our experience with them has been very positive, very good, not just because of this one transaction,” Burkhardt said.

Another example: The bank helped make possible a $50,000 planning grant for Five Rivers Metro Park, Miami Conservancy District and the city of Dayton to address blight along the Wolf Creek corridor into the Great Miami River just west of downtown.

Carrie Scarff, chief of planning and projects for Five Rivers Metroparks, praised the bank’s role in making the grant happen.

The idea is to make the creek and river a more visible, open resource in areas where the waterways are perhaps neglected today.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to turn coal into a diamond,” Scarff said.

Planners want to address a lack of “quality open space” in those areas, making sure the trail system is an asset in every part of town, Scarff said. The city of Dayton is also working on re-routing bikeway access in the area that’s connected to the regional system, she said.

“The Land Bank has been a really important part of this,” she said.

The bank is also a partner to house flippers, or as Grauwelman calls them, “investors.”

Chris Manning, a Dayton resident and investor, bought and improved two older houses for his children. With the bank’s help, he paid $3,000 for one vacant house on Cedarlawn Drive and bid on another, on nearby Orchard Springs Drive, winning with a $6,200 bid online.

Manning and his wife worked on the homes to improve them for their children.

“It’s good deal for the people, and it’s a good deal for the neighborhood,” Manning said, adding a few minutes later: “The Land Bank is what makes it possible.”

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