New owners take on Riddle Block 9 building, working to revitalize downtown Ravenna

Catholic Charities, a social services organization, still operates in the buidling. Riddle Block 9's new owners are looking for small businesses to occupy the first floor units. Asha Blake/The Portager

With new owners and a vision, the historic Riddle Block 9 Building in downtown Ravenna is poised for a revival. 

Built in 1911 by Henry Riddle, Riddle Block 9 still remains the largest commercial building in downtown Ravenna. The four-story, 48,000-square-feet landmark sits in the Central Business District downtown, featuring a mix of retail space, offices and 20 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Doug and Melissa Shelton, the new owners, said they saw the building was available about an hour after it hit the market and were instantly drawn to the unique opportunity the building could offer. 

The Sheltons are starting by filling the apartments that are already ready to rent and renovating the others. 

There’s also an apartment on the top floor that faces the courthouse on Main Street, which Melissa said will be turned into an Airbnb. She said there’s only one Airbnb in Ravenna in the area that they’re aware of, and there aren’t any hotels, so an Airbnb is something they think there is a need for.

“It’s a great view from the top floor, a fairly large unit, great living area, dining area or work area, kitchen and two bedrooms,” Melissa said. “We’re trying to restore as much of the charm to that Airbnb space, including the flooring, the woodwork, built-in cabinetry in the kitchen, but still modernizing it enough to make it desirable.”

Another important piece of the renovations encompasses the retail space on the ground floor. There are seven units, and Doug said the space is big enough that it could be a good place to bring in some unique businesses and increase foot traffic to help revitalize downtown.

“We’ve seen a real mix with our tenants,” he said. “We’ve got all different ages, all different walks of life, and I think the desirability of living in a downtown area like that is really starting to come back.” 

They’re also planning to add more amenities for tenants, like extra laundry capacity, as more people move into the building. They’re also looking at options for the second floor, possibly turning it into office space or a shared community space for tenants. 

They’ll also be restoring the signature glass atrium in the middle of the building because “it’s so unique and special, we want to get it back up to the level it once was,” Melissa said.

These renovations are going to be a work in progress, but the Sheltons have a tentative timeline extending for the next year or so. Renovations to the retail spaces will probably kick off within the next month or so. 

To help accomplish their renovations, the Sheltons, through a partnership with Main Street Ravenna and Heritage Ohio, received the National Park Service’s Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization grant from the Ohio History Connection. The program assists Ohio’s Main Street communities, like Ravenna, with the rehabilitation of historic buildings that prioritize economic impact, use of commercial first floor space and upper floor residential space, and encourage reactivation of vacant spaces, according to a press release. 

With the grant, Melissa said preservation of the building is key, and in order to do that properly they need to work with an architect who is proficient in preservation. 

“We’re not restoring, but we’re preserving the best that we can,” Melissa said. “For a building that’s over 100 years old, we’re going to run into problems with materials and what water has done over time to the building and just wear and tear and natural aging. As we open up some of these apartment units to do renovation, we’ve found some major plumbing problems to minor plumbing problems. But the important piece of this is just to preserve the integrity of the building and the character of it, keeping in mind the age of the building and paying respect to that.”

As the Sheltons begin their renovations on the building, Doug said they welcome any small business owners who feel like they may be a good fit in the space to check it out, as well as any ideas from community members who may have thoughts on what businesses would serve the community well in the open retail space. 

One idea Melissa said they’ve heard a lot is that people in the community would love to see the cafe corner of the building become a some sort of Italian deli, as there aren’t many options for grab-and-go food. Melissa also mentioned it would be a nice way to pay tribute to Ravenna’s Italian heritage. 

The Sheltons said any business owners interested in the space, or community members with ideas, can share them via email at riddleblock9@gmail.com.