Fairfax warehouse sought by feds in drug case previously housed restaurant, electrical contractor, more – cleveland.com

This photo, taken on March 16, 2022, shows a warehouse at 7719 Carnegie Ave. in Cleveland.Adam Ferrise, cleveland.com
CLEVELAND, Ohio — It is a brick building that thousands of motorists drive by for their daily commute from the East Side to downtown. It sits between a restaurant and a vacant motel.
Yet aside from a colorful mural on the western side of the building featuring the phrase “love can fix it,” there is not much to distinguish the warehouse and gated lot at 7719 Carnegie Ave. from the rest of that stretch.
In the past five decades it has been owned by a refrigerator parts company and an electrical contractor, and was once home to a popular soul food restaurant where some of the most powerful Black politicians gathered.
But now, federal prosecutors are looking to seize the warehouse, saying it was a key part of a multimillion-dollar drug operation that moved more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine to the Cleveland area from Mexico over the past three years.
Those involved used the warehouse in the Fairfax neighborhood to stash the drugs, a house in Lorain to count the proceeds and hidden compartments in semitrailers and sport-utility vehicles to haul cocaine and profits and evade police, prosecutors said.
The owner of the building, a city worker named Christopher Ficklin, was arrested Tuesday and faces more than a dozen drug and weapons charges. He pleaded not guilty during his arraignment. His attorney Nicholas Oleski said his client looks forward to proving his case in court.
CNT Trucking, registered to Crystal Ficklin and associated with Christopher Ficklin, operates out of the warehouse, which sits west of the Cleveland Clinic.
Christopher Ficklin, through his company CNT Construction, bought the century-old warehouse and 0.4-acre site in 2011 for $197,000, Cuyahoga County property records said.
Before its current ownership, the building had several uses.
In 1975, the property was owned by Tyler Refrigeration Equipment Co. Following a series of transfers, including among people associated with Tyler Refrigeration, a company affiliated with Ronald and Marc Ullman of Ullman Electrical Co. bought the property in 1994. The contractor worked out of the building for many years before it was sold to Ficklin.
In the 1990s, the building was also home to Ella Wee’s Carnegie Deli and Soul Fixin’s Restaurant, which was, for a time in the 1990s and 2000s, the home to the Carnegie Roundtable. That group of influential Black politicians, ministers and businesspeople regularly held court there.
City Council President Blaine Griffin, whose ward includes that stretch of Carnegie Avenue, said Ficklin and his family members who worked at the building were active in the neighborhood “in trying to maintain peace and growth in that corridor.”
The building also sits on the edge of an area of Cleveland which developers have increasingly eyed in recent years. Midtown and some of the neighborhoods that sit in it have seen hundreds of millions of dollars of new businesses, construction and renovations in recent years, and is on the way toward a revitalization of an area that saw the effects of decades of disinvestment.
Farther west, on East 66th Street in the Hough neighborhood, the Cleveland Foundation is building its new headquarters there. Other apartment complexes are either under construction or in the works.
The Cleveland Bagel Co. also opened a new location near the warehouse. A block down is a Dunkin’ donuts location. And restauranteur Akin Affrica has Angie’s Soul Café next door to the warehouse, in a building that once housed the popular Hot Sauce Williams barbecue joint.
Affrica said that he bought the restaurant building and one across the street because he saw the potential in the neighborhood where he grew up.
“I’m part of it,” said Affrica, who now lives near Atlanta and said his children run most of the operations in Cleveland. “That’s why I bought both of my buildings.”
Griffin said while Ficklin’s arrest was unfortunate, any fallout for the neighborhood from the federal government’s accusations would be short lived.
“We’ll survive this,” he said. “It’s unfortunate for our community that we have to deal with the transport of drugs, but the momentum of that district will go on.”
This photo, taken March 16, 2022, shows a mural on the side of a warehouse at 7719 Carnegie Ave. in Cleveland.Adam Ferrise, cleveland.com
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