Road Blocks: Impediments to Downtown Redevelopment

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

If you’ve lived in these froggy environs for ten years or more, it is unmistakable. Downtown is booming.

The last major redevelopment in Toledo downtown began in the early eighties. Owens Illinois built its world headquarters building, now the Fifth Third Bank building. Portside Festival Marketplace opened with quaint shops, and even a bar with a pool. Four Seagate was built, as were several other new buildings on Summit Street. The new government center was completed, and the old federal building was demolished, allowing a view of the muddy Maumee. Skywalks were built to connect everything, including a new convention center.

Then it slowly fell apart. Portside’s rents were too high, and one by one, the shops closed. The skywalks fell into disrepair. Owens Illinois was bought and split up, and eventually moved out of the building it had built. More and more businesses followed suit, moving out of the city into suburban industrial parks.

By the mid-nineties, downtown was a ghostly image of its heyday in the fifties.

Comeback kid

Then things started to turn around. The county built a new stadium for the Mud Hens, and it became an immediate hit. The stadium slowly but surely spurred redevelopment of adjacent buildings, and now it is surrounded by bars, restaurants, art studios and shops. The new hockey arena soon followed, ensuring downtown infusions of sports and music fans on a regular basis.

The big game changer, of course, was ProMedica’s move downtown.

Long dormant spots on Summit are now awakening from their slumber. Redevelopment of buildings into residential space continues, with everything from market rate apartments to high end condos. Most are gobbled up even before they are completed. Thousands of people now live downtown, and thousands more want to.

There’s a new energy, from events at the revitalized Promenade Park to outdoor concerts at Hensville, There are pedicabs and barcycles, golf cart taxis and resurgent nightlife.

Uptown funk

Alas, not all is rosy. Here are some of the remaining problems to be tackled for downtown to truly be labeled a success.

1. Winners and losers. The county had a big hand in downtown’s resurgence by building the convention center, ball park, and arena. Unfortunately it found the space by dropping them in the middle of intersections, severing through streets. Most of the redevelopment is sequestered in the warehouse district and along Monroe Street, with a dab of Adams Street between 12th and 21st thrown in. Everything else is spotty. Superior between Madison and Adams is attempting a comeback, and the redevelopment of the Tower on the Maumee will help, but until more redevelopment happens throughout downtown, the renaissance can’t be called an unqualified success.

2. Madison and Huron. The last corner with four intact high rises. Two of which are owned by a notorious out of state scofflaw who refuses to do anything productive with them. The third, the old Nasby Building, was recently purchased from the city by a group of investors for redevelopment. Perhaps if that happens, the Nicholas and Spitzer will finally get the love they deserve. This would help problem #1 above, also.

3. Road construction. ‘Nuff said.

4. That giant sucking sound. As downtown redevelops, much of its growth is at the expense of surrounding suburbs and Toledo’s neighborhoods. Moving pieces of the puzzle from the mall to Madison Ave doesn’t grow the region. We need to attract folks from elsewhere to grow the puzzle.

5. Uptown, downtown. We have to stop thinking of uptown as somehow distinct from downtown. Likewise the warehouse district. We need a comprehensive redevelopment strategy for all of the above. Outsiders don’t see the distinction, and we shouldn’t either. Parochialism is death.