The rise and fall of a County Commish

. November 8, 2017.
gerkin-toledo-politics

Rewind to five years ago.
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken was arguably the most powerful person in Northwest Ohio. He was recognizable and well known. He was afforded a high level of respect. He ran in lofty circles with the titans of local business, industry, and politics. He wielded an impressive amount of clout.

How far the mighty have fallen.
In the intervening half decade or so Gerken’s star has faded to the point that he is often an after thought. Even the rumors of Gerken running for Toledo Mayor, which we cast as a done deal not many months ago, now seem a bit laughable..
What on Carty’s green Earth has happened?

That was then

Five years ago downtown Toledo was still struggling under the weight of decades of decline and neglect. Most activity had long since retreated to the suburbs or out of the area altogether. Streets were largely deserted after five p.m., and rarely very active even before that fateful hour.

There were only a few exceptions to the sleepy, litter strewn downtown wasteland. And most were owned or revitalized by investments by the County, with Gerken as the face of development.

It started when the Mud Hens moved to a new downtown park in 2002. While the development around Fifth Third Field was slow in coming, the ball park itself was an immediate hit. Over ten thousand fans, many from hundreds of miles away, would fill the stands on every Friday and Saturday night from late June through August.

A few years after the move Gerken was elected Commissioner. The team won the International League championship in the two years after Gerken was elected and the surrounding buildings began to be revitalized. By the late aughts the move could be crowned a resounding success, with good amount of credit given to the Commissioners. Gerken made sure to place himself at the center of the story.

Then came the Huntington Center and the return of hockey to T-Town. Another massive County investment, another success story, this time with Gerken at front and center from the beginning While the Huntington hasn’t yet spurred the massive redevelopment of surrounding buildings that Fifth Third Field has, the arena itself features sold out shows, events, and hockey games.

Fifth Third Field has been named the best stadium in Minor League Baseball, and the Huntington Center is also a perfect midsize venue. It’s hard to say what downtown would have been like in that time period if the County had not stepped into the development game. But Gerken was often credited with making sure we didn’t have to find out.

This is now

Fast forward to now. The County investments are still shining jewels. But the credit now more often goes to the leader of the Mud Hens and Walleye organizations, Joe Napoli. The recent mass development around Fifth Third Field has been under the visionary direction of Napoli, not the Commissioners, and not Gerken in particular.

More recently, Napoli has been joined by ProMedica CEO Randy Oostra as the face of downtown development. It’s going thick and fast now, with new restaurants and night spots and a renovated top-notch hotel, and more on the way. The Berdan Building project is nearing completion, the old Fiberglas Tower is being redeveloped into upscale residential, commercial, and retail space, and a new development team is now poised to do the same with the long-vacant Madison Building. It seems there’s another announcement every week or so. And Gerken’s name is nowhere near any of it.

Then there’s the relationship between Gerken and City leadership. Not many years ago Gerken was in the bully-boy drivers’ seat, most notably over who had to bear the cost of criminal justice.
Then the County lost a lawsuit against the City and Gerken’s bully-boy stance began to sound more and more like so much pitiful bleating in the dark. These days his clout is pretty much gone.
This year was the nadir for Gerken. The old Holiday Inn on Summit Street, purchased by the County, languishes in half-torn-down state across the street from the Fiberglas Tower, while Gerken keeps promising that some unnamed developer wants to purchase it that way. Gerken’s buddy Koray Ergur continues to let the Spitzer and Nicholas buildings decay at Madison and Huron, across the street from the Madison Building. And Gerken’s ill-considered attempt to rush a new county jail into the corner of Airport and Angola was met with resounding and near-unanimous jeers and catcalls.

And we actually thought this guy could consider a run for Mayor?
Whatever we were smoking is way too good for the medical dispensaries.