The Oak Rubber Company made balloons and employed over 300 people. Photo via the Portage County Historical Society
Ravenna city officials would like to clean up the mess from the demolished buildings at 645 S. Chestnut St., once home to Oak Rubber. But there’s one problem: Nobody owns it.
“The previous owner passed away and left it to nobody,” Ravenna Economic Development Director Dennis West said. “The city building department condemned the building. It needed to be torn down. It was unsafe.”
The last known property owner was the now-defunct C. F. Capital Investment, owned by David Clark, who is deceased. After Clark’s children legally surrendered their interest in the property, Ravenna obtained permission through Portage County Common Pleas Court to demolish the three-building complex, which it did in 2021 and 2022.
The huge pile of rubble has remained on site since then. The City of Ravenna and the Portage County Land Bank have partnered with the U.S. EPA, which must wait for federal court permission to even assess the property.
“Once the results of that assessment are obtained, they will know how to move forward with cleaning up the property,” West said. “They were hoping they could jump off the city’s court order that was obtained back in 2020 for the demolition, but the court order was specific to demolition.”
If the EPA could have piggybacked off the city’s demolition order, the cleanup could have begun as early as next month, he said. As of now, there is no time frame.
Even without an owner, property taxes are still being assessed. The Portage County Auditor’s office shows back taxes totaling $132,082 have accrued: a sum any potential buyer would suddenly shoulder. Foreclosing on the property would stop the accrual of property taxes, which then may or may not be dissolved, depending on how the property is disposed of, West said.
“We need to move forward with this, so we have to bring in the court system, we have to bring in the county auditor, the county treasurer … It’s a process. We’re going to get through it,” West said.
Hoping to arrive at a resolution, Ravenna city officials contacted the Portage County Land Bank, a nonprofit devoted to converting vacant, blighted, abandoned and tax-delinquent property into productive use.
“In a case like this, I would see our role in assisting the city in re-utilizing the property,” Executive Director Dan Morganti said. “Possibly we could help them with acquisition if there’s a third party who wants to take ownership or applying for [state and federal] grants, environmental assessment or cleanup dollars. It really is a huge barrier and hurdle to redevelopment as it sits now.”
Portage County Treasurer Brad Cromes will have the final say over foreclosure proceedings, which include determining how the back taxes and the EPA’s cleanup costs will be handled. The tax burden could dissolve if the State of Ohio or the land bank takes legal ownership, Cromes said.
“The most likely outcome is those back taxes are not being collected, and we’re trying to get it into a place where it can be usable and generate revenue in the future,” he said.
Originally an Akron company, Oak Rubber moved to Ravenna in 1917 after a flood destroyed their building. The firm acquired what had been the Cleveland Worsted Mill on South Chestnut in 1957.
A massive fire in March 1920 reduced the plant to charred rubble, but it emerged from the ashes six months later with two new fireproof buildings and 125 employees, according to a 2013 Record-Courier article by Roger Di Paolo.
The company “made a variety of products, but toy balloons were Oak Rubber’s claim to fame,” Di Paolo wrote.
The new facility “was built to produce 150,000 balloons per day, retailing for a penny to 25 cents. Red was the most popular color for toy balloons … accounting for more than 50 percent of production,” Di Paolo wrote, citing the long-defunct Ravenna Republican newspaper.
Oak Rubber, which at one time employed more than 350 people, closed in 1993. The building was then used for a variety of purposes, its last being a three-story flea market that closed in the early 2000s. The site, which was never completely cleared out, attracted people without housing, scrappers and vandals before the city of Ravenna was able to raze it.