Richmond Hills Apartments

Euclid Sun Journal (Cleveland Ohio)

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

Riding to Rolling Hills' rescue




He’s brash and confident,' and wants everyone to know that his company is No. 1. In fact, Ken Ippolito isn’t shy about saying the nicknames he goes by are "Super Genius" and "King Closer" (as in closing a business deal).

If Ippolito can do even more of what he’s done at the former Rolling Hills Apartments, 25450 Euclid Ave., city leaders will readily agree with whatever the 45-year-old has to say.

One walk through the apartment complex, which just last year was one away from condemnation under the ownership of Florida-based SASE, and anyone could see why the city would feel as it does towards Ippolito.

Consisting of two four-story buildings, the complex at one time featured walls marred by crayon writing, elevators reeking of urine in elevators, feces in stairways, drug users milling about and a generally dirty, dingy appearance. All that has changed.

"When we started here, only 80 units were occupied and only 40 of those had paying tenants," said maintenance supervisor Clarence Powell, before beginning to lead a tour of the site. "Now, we’re fully occupied (197 suites) and have a waiting list of tenants."

Ten months of work and $1.1 million worth of renovations are evident through-out. There’s are newly carpeted and painted (like almost every other hallway, room, and elevator in the complex) lobby area. Fresh-looking laundry rooms are on each floor (complete with vending machine and security camera in each), and even a seldom-used storage room and the boiler room have clean, neat appearances, as well as new equipment.

Fifty security cameras dot the property and monitoring stations for those cameras have been set up in two rooms. New lighting is everywhere.

An area between the two buildings, formerly home to a swimming pool that had seen better days, has been replaced by a well-manicured grass lawn split by a brick pathway.

The people who work for Ippolito, including Powell, headquarters manager Keith Blume, and, property manager Carrie Vohnout, all carry the confidence of people who know they’re working for a top-notch employer. In fact, Blume is seen wearing a suit with a baseball cap that has "We’re No. 1" emblazoned upon it. Two banners hanging from terraces make the same proclamation.

Ippolito, who carries the same flair as a Donald Trump, a man whose name he uses in conversation, constantly speaks of his "team," and of success. The team, in return, speaks highly of their boss, who treats them well, and expects excellent performance.

Ippolito has newly re-named his latest of 19 acquisitions "Richmond Hills Apartments." His 18th was the apartment building directly next door to the west of Richmond Hills --- the Richmond Towers --- which he also fixed up, then sold at a nice profit. He bought it in November, 2001 for $2.15 million and sold a little more than a year later for $4.15 million.

In the case of Richmond Hills, which was built in 1966, he paid $2.25 million in September of 2002. Any hopes of him staying at the site were immediately dashed when he reported during an interview last week that a deal has already closed on the complex. He’s selling for $6.5 million.

Ippolito says he became aware of what was the Rolling Hills upon seeing a news story about its woes in the Euclid Sun Journal. "I like a challenge," he says. "This apartment was in the worst shape of my 19 (spread throughout Greater Cleveland) when I bought it."

He says he outbid K&D Group’s Doug Price to gain its ownership. K&D has been praised widely for its handling of Euclid apartment complexes, as well as its plans to spend more than $70 million in developing the city’s lake front.

Residents of the Richmond Hills see the difference since Ippolito overcame his most recent challenge of turning the rundown complex into a place people feel is worth waiting for to live in.

"The water was always turned off," recalls Aldine Walker, a resident of the complex since 1997. "It was noisy and scary. Now, it’s quiet. I used to not be able to go outside at night. He’s got cameras here now, and it’s not (scary) anymore. It’s 100 percent better."

Robert Morris, who works doing housing renovations, moved into a suite in January after leaving an apartment in Shaker Heights. He likes the view from his apartment and those who operate it.

"The management here is better than in Shaker Heights," Morris said. "I’ve heard there’s a big difference from before they (Ippolito’s Team) got here. There were people doing drugs running around the halls and garbage in the stairwells."

Part of the plan to turn around the complex involved obtaining better quality tenants.

"We do background checks in a lot of areas," said Vohnout. "We check to see if they have prior evictions, or even if eviction was ever pending. We check for felonies and do employment verification. We look for last landlord verification."

Ippolito, who drives a black Jaguar and calls business associates by names such as "Mr. Caveman," obviously likes to have fun with what he does. The nephew of former Cleveland Browns team Dr. Vic Ippolito and the son of the former owner of the Ippolito’s Ideal Macaroni company, he’s a man comfortable with the "big deal," and with making his mark and moving on.

Recently, Mayor Paul Oyaski took a tour of Richmond Hills and ended up asking that Ippolito take a look at some other Euclid apartments in need of repair.

"I’m looking at one or two now." Ippolito says, promising Euclid hasn’t seen the last of him and the improvements he brings about.

Of Richmond Hills, Oyaski says, "It is a remarkable transformation. (Ippolito) deserves commendation for what he’s done."

Housing Manager Erik Tollerup is the man who once hounded its former owners and was near condemning the site and prosecuting SASE’s leadership. He said the apartments once were the site of "slum conditions." The site was about to be put up for sale at a federal marshal’s sale when it was rescued.

"We’re very pleased Mr. Ippolito has turned Rolling Hills around," Tollerup said. "This is the kind of development, turning around multi-family dwellings into a secure atmosphere, that we like for our neighborhoods. It’s another case in which the city’s efforts to take the hard line (on SASE) paid off."

Ward 4 Councilman Christopher Gruber hasn’t met Ippolito but has taken note of the work he has done. "It’s very attractive there now," Gruber said. "We need more landlords like him."

Euclid may not get more like him --- there are a few like Ippolito --- but, as stated, it may get him again. And with the results seen thus far, Ippolito has, indeed, looked like a "Super Genius."