Pioneering a neighborhood: locals turn empty lots into their forever homes

After 20 years in their Perkins Township home, Ron and Warrenette Parthemore wanted a change and were looking for a place to build a new house, preferably near Sandusky's thriving downtown.

They were driving around downtown in 2019 when Ron noticed the empty lot that was once an industrial site on East Market Street.

“Ron said, 'That's empty there. What do you think?'” Warrenette said. “I said, 'It would be perfect.'”

The lot faced Shoreline Park, one of Warrenette's favorite places to walk, on Sandusky Bay, and it was close to their adult children's downtown homes. The couple could picture walking to their favorite restaurants and enjoying coffee in their dining room while watching the sunrise.

Last year, they moved into their newly constructed story-and-a-half, dark blue home with picture windows. It was the first of a fledgling development of new housing on East Market Street.

The three new houses line East Market Street. (Photo/The Helm)
“No one had ever said 'We want to build a new house downtown,'” Ron said. “The city was really good to work with. Downtown is the center of everything for us now. It's a new adventure.”

Neighbors Ed and Jen Torres and Tom and Paula Collier bought the lots next to the Parthemores. A fourth lot in that block has sold for another new home construction, and three more lots across Warren Street will be going up for sale, said Colleen Gilson, City of Sandusky Neighborhood Development Officer.

For the owners of these new homes, it is exciting to be part of the continued revitalization of downtown Sandusky. The Torres, who are Sandusky natives and own construction and rental housing company Amerihome, also bought the former Buckeye Cable building across the street from the homes and are renovating it with plans to put a winery, restaurant and rental cabins there.

“I think the new homes will bring a new life down here,” Jen Torres said. “We thought, how nice would it be to walk everywhere and not have to drive. We feel like we're on vacation every day. We can walk to the restaurants. I can walk to work. It's so nice.”

The development

The site of the three new houses in the 400 block of East Water Street and the lots to the east were once a vacant industrial site that had been used since the 1880s for various purposes, including manufacturing for Sandusky Cabinets.

The city owned the land, and in 2008, it received a brownfields cleanup grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to sanitize the site and prepare it for future redevelopment.

The city is continuing to work toward the revitalization of this area. On Jan. 9, the Sandusky City Commission authorized the city manager to enter into an agreement with Russell Realty to sell three newly split lots, which the city owns, for construction of single-family homes, Gilson said.

“We have actually been cultivating a list of folks who saw the site and called us regarding its availability,” Gilson said. “We felt it prudent to list it with a real estate agent so there is a fair market versus the city making elections of who we're going to sell to. I think these lots will sell quickly.”

For the large swath of land south of the housing lots, the city is reviewing responses to its request for proposals for the area. The emphasis for these proposals was on housing, but the city also left room for developers to share their best concept ideas, Gilson said.

The new houses

Downtown Sandusky is filled with historic homes, many from the Victorian era and some crafted with the limestone found in the area. The new housing boom combines the old with the new. The three new homes have different styles, yet they blend with the rest of the area.

“It's definitely a neighborhood and not a planned community,” Paula Collier said.

Next to the Parthemores' blue home is the Colliers' white, two-story house with spacious first and second-floor porches. On the other side of the Colliers' house is the Torres' modern stone-colored home with stone accents and upper balcony.

Each home's front windows take advantage of the view of Sandusky Bay and Shoreline Park. Their spacious back porches offer opportunities for entertaining friends and family.

The garages are located in back with driveway access off Pioneer Way, preserving the view and on-street angle parking for those attending downtown special events.

And each home incorporated some of the huge natural limestone boulders found beneath the lots when construction started into their landscaping.

The Parthemores' house is bright and open, with plenty of light coming in from large windows throughout the house and a cozy fireplace. The upstairs includes an office for Ron, with a balcony where he can take some quiet breaks and enjoy views of the bay. It also has a music room for his vinyl collection and Beatles memorabilia and aThe Parthemores' home includes room for Ron's vinyl collection and Beatles memorabilia. guest room.

“We wanted something that had a little bit of that coastal cottage feel,” Warrenette Parthemore said. “With the windows, it has that feel. In the landscaping, we incorporated some native grasses.”

The Colliers' home evokes a feel of New Orleans, one of Paula's favorite cities. She worked closely on the design, creating a sun room and expanding the large porches in the blueprint. Behind the home is a patio and courtyard between the house and garage.

Their vision was a place where their four adult boys could come stay, bring their dogs and their girlfriends and be so comfortable that they wouldn't want toPaula and Tom Collier in the ktichen of the Market Street home. leave.

“It was exactly what I wanted,” she said. “I wanted the indoor/outdoor living. I also wanted a home where you could walk in and it feels special to you but it also feels very comfortable.”

When the Torres were designing their house, they wanted to have plenty of spaces to entertain their large extended family. The two-story home includes a loft with theater seating, second-story deck, indoor kitchen and outdoor kitchen on the spacious patio that can be heated during cooler months.

The result is a very modern, light-filled design with open spaces and room to easily entertain the 60 family members they were expecting at Christmastime. Ed did much of the construction.
Jen and Ed Torres' kitchen includes plenty of room for entertaining.
Jen Torres, who has a degree in interior design and a background in designing and selling houses, describes their home as having a modern, Frank Lloyd Wright feeling that matches some of the modern construction downtown, such as Everwild Spirits and the BGSU Firelands building.

“We knew exactly what we wanted,” she said. “One night we drew it out on the dining table. We just had an architect engineer it.”

Pioneering spirit creating neighborhood community

The city's decision to name the access road behind the homes Pioneer Way was a tribute to the spirit of excitement and community the new residents have brought to the on-going revitalization of downtown.

Inside the Parthemores' home hangs a blue canvas with a quote from former Sandusky City Manager Eric Wobser, who was one of the city officials who worked with them. It reads: “The Parthemores are urban pioneers and part of a movement back into the city by individuals who value walkability to downtown amenities, culture, the waterfront and diversity.”

It's a meaningful reminder that they, and their neighbors, are part of a movement to enhance the city they love. It reminds them of the sense of excitement about being downtown, whether it's the prospect of the Torres' plan for the building across the street or the numerous events and amenities that bring so many people to downtown.

“I can't think of another city that has what Sandusky has - waterfront, a great downtown and an area where you can build,” Jen Torres said. “I can't think of another city where you could build new single-family homes on the water and with so many amenities so close.”

With the new construction and new neighbors comes a sense of community that has been special for the residents. On some evenings, they stop by each other's houses for a glass of wine or visit with each other while they're outside working in the yard or enjoying their patios.

Another joy has been the interaction they have had with passersby, people walking or biking the Sandusky Bay Pathway and attending events in the city.

“We feel really lucky that we are in a city that's growing, and growing in a direction that we completely embrace,” Paula Collier said. “We feel very fortunate that we were able to get in on the ground floor and hopefully influence other people to come down and make that their home and increase our neighborhood. I think the more people who are living down there, the more satisfaction we're all going to have.”