By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter
The YWCA of Northwest Ohio has announced the 2023 Honorees for the YWCA Milestones: A Tribute to Women annual award.
For nearly 30 years, YWCA Northwest Ohio has commemorated Women’s History Month by recognizing business leaders who embody their mission of eliminating racism and empowering women.
Today we highlight Milestones Business Honoree, Ambrea Mikolajczyk, owner of ARK Restoration & Construction Company.
As the sun rises above the horizon, casting a warm glow across the city of Toledo, Mikolajczyk stands before a dilapidated building, her heart racing with anticipation. “To most, they’re just abandoned buildings decaying and crumbling, forgotten by the world around us, but to me, they are treasures waiting to be uncovered, pieces of history waiting to be revived.”
Born and raised in Toledo in the BUMA neighborhood on Goodale and Macomber, Ambrea Mikolajczyk would have never imagined she’d one day be one of the first Black female developers in the northwest Ohio region.
“I met my husband Kevin while we were teenagers working at the shoe store Finish Line,” she shares. I later ran into him in the hallways of Roy C. Start High School and we’ve been inseparable since.”
Ambera went on to earn an academic scholarship through Toledo Excel and Helen Cooks, PhD, and graduated from The University of Toledo with a Pharmacy Administration Degree.
“Kevin and I love Toledo. That love has always been a driving force behind us staying here after school and growing where we are planted,” says Ms. Mikolajczyk
Over the next 15 years Ambrea had an illustrious career as a pharmaceutical sales manager for Pfizer, and then Genzyme.
“Our start in real estate investment materialized from a seed of curiosity. Kevin and I were intrigued. We attended an auction and purchased our first distressed properties: a house and a duplex,” recalls Ambrea. “We attended meetings, watched videos, read, and researched everything we could to gain a better understanding of the industry.”
Mikolajczyk took a deep breath and stepped forward, feet to the gravel and debris that littered the ground of their newly acquired distressed properties. The air was thick with the scent of dust and decay, but she could sense something else, something that stirred within her like a flame.
“I remember the excitement of possibility, the thrill of transformation, the joy of feeling we were bringing old and forgotten homes back to life for local families,” she says.
In 2017, Ms. Mikolajczyk felt a calling to leave her successful career in pharmaceuticals to launch, now ARK Restoration & Construction, where she is majority owner.
“Kevin and I had acquired the knowledge necessary to help clients with their construction needs one step at a time. We decided we were ready to pursue our new venture full-time and I named the company ARK, because very much like Noah in The Bible, I knew our journey would be challenging, yet necessary,” says Ambrea.
Understanding there would be difficulties navigating as a Black woman in a male-dominated field Ms. Mikolajczyk knew from the onset she wanted to be a responsible developer fostering a diverse workforce.
Fast-forward to today, ARK has renovated over 20 structures, improved property values in desolate communities, and owns and manages, with their team, nearly 200 apartments.
In the past 15 years, ARK has also renovated and preserved about nine multi-family apartments — mostly in West Toledo and the Old West End. ARK Companies proudly partner with a healthy mix of both union and non-union local companies on their projects and have since the inception of their business, shares Ambrea. “50 percent of our workforce are Black and 30 percent are women.”
“Women bring a unique perspective and skillset to the table, and our contributions are essential for businesses to succeed in today’s global market,” says Ms. Mikolajczyk. Studies have shown that gender diversity in the workplace is beneficial for businesses. Companies with diverse teams are more innovative, make better decisions, and have better financial performance than those without.
ARK Restoration & Construction is perhaps best known for turning the old Wonder Bread bakery in Toledo’s Historic Vistula neighborhood into affordable luxury apartments.
The Lofts at WB is a groundbreaking development in a historic neighborhood that has long experienced disinvestment and structural barriers to capital and development. The apartments have 33 loft units (seven designated as affordable units), full of natural light shining through large warehouse paned efficiency windows. The apartments’ vaulted 24 foot ceilings expose beautiful steel trusses and all units are decked in the newest amenities.
“We hope it will attract additional investment and amenities to the community residents, many of whom are Black or other people of color, that have faced racial and economic inequities,” shares Ambrea.
The loft apartments also include in-building covered resident parking and breathtaking views of the Maumee River and Downtown Toledo skyline.
It was a huge undertaking but ARK’s team was undeterred. Rolling up their sleeves their team dove into the work, armed with passion and determination. “Day after day, they chipped away at the layers of neglect, revealing the hidden beauty and character of the building,” recalls Ambera.
As the weeks turned into months, the building began to take shape, its grandeur and beauty emerging like a butterfly from its cocoon. The archways and columns stood tall and proud, metal trusses gleamed in the sunlight, the ceilings and windows shone with new life.
With each passing day, The Lofts at WB increase the value of the surrounding properties, breathing new life into the entire neighborhood. “It was a special experience to take part in the Wander the Warehouse District tour,” shares Mrs. Mikolajczyk. “It was exciting to take the community on a restoration journey they could witness with their own eyes.”
Wander the Warehouse is the signature loft and business tour of Warehouse District buildings in downtown Toledo, OH. After the event, people began to take notice, to see the beauty and potential of the once-forgotten building, and to appreciate the efforts ARK Restoration and Construction put into its restoration.
Over the next several years ARK will be working on their second and third largest projects to date —
East Toledo’s former Masonic Temple and two of downtown Toledo’s oldest and largest office buildings — the Spitzer and Nicholas.
East Toledo has been in need of more affordable housing for seniors for some time now. Toledo’s 10-year housing plan, noted more than a third of our city’s seniors are cost-burdened. And much of the city’s existing housing options for them are old and low-quality.
“We found a niche in historic buildings because they’re dirty, they’re nasty, they’re challenging, and not a lot of people want to do them,” says Ambrea.
“Our plans for the former Temple will transform the four-story historic structure into 42 affordable senior apartments, with retail services such as a barbershop, salon, and even a medical facility on the first floor,” she shares.
“We are also excited to be teaming up with Cincinnati developer, The Model Group, for the Spitzer and Nicholas buildings.”
Together ARK and The Model Group presented a redevelopment proposal to transform historic buildings — two of downtown’s original skyscrapers.
“Our proposal envisions beautiful apartments overlooking the city’s skyline and ground-level commercial spaces,” shares Ms. Mikolajczyk.
The properties combine 500,000 square feet and are part of Toledo’s historic Four Corners, the intersection of Huron Street and Madison Avenue, where all four original buildings remain today.
“The ARK Restoration & Construction team is honored to be a part of reimagining the 11-story Spitzer and 17-story Nicholas buildings,” shares Ambrea. “Our plans call for close to 400 apartments including 40,000 square feet of multi-purpose commercial space.”
With a keen eye for opportunity and a deep understanding of our community, Ambrea Mikolajczyk and her team work tirelessly, negotiating with city officials, investors, and community leaders to ensure that their vision will become a reality.
“Our efforts are paying off, and soon, downtown will begin to transform back into a vibrant, thriving community full of families once priced out of the housing market, with safe comfortable homes to call their own,” says Ambrea.
ARK Companies hard work and dedication to the City of Toledo is far from over. The Mikolajczyk’s continue to push for change, advocating for policies that will promote equity and access for all. They know that their work is not just about bricks and mortar, but about building a better future for all.
When asked what being honored by the YWCA in the business sector means to her, Ms. Mikolajczyk says, My legacy is not just in the buildings we revitalize, but in the hope they inspire and the doors they open for generations to come. I will forever be humbled by this honor.
The YWCA Milestones: A Tribute to Women Awards Luncheon will be held on March 30 at 11:30 a.m. at the Glass City Center.