Monday, May 21, 2018
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The mall and sprawl

Citizens who attended the recent Maumee municipal planning commission meeting on the proposed mall at Fallen Timbers were anything but happy campers. Area residents are beginning, slowly to be sure, to rethink the costs of endless suburban sprawl.

At the same time, a hard truth is emerging in the urban - and suburban - marketplace, and that is that retailing follows its customers, in this case from the central city to outlying environs. Many of the shopping centers in Toledo are paying the price of that trend. Only Franklin Park, strategically located, has stoutly resisted.

The proposed mall would dominate the Jerome-Stitt exit on U.S. 24. It would transform a large tract of agricultural land over which the army of Gen. Anthony Wayne marched to join battle with an Indian tribal confederacy in 1794. That encounter led to statehood for Ohio in 1803. Citizens also have raised questions about traffic congestion, a strain on water and sewage facilities, and river pollution.

Any retail mall faces tough competition from large stand-alone stores that pack in customers at all hours seven days a week. General Growth Partners of Chicago runs malls in 39 states, but its application was described by a Maumee official as an “incomplete rough draft,” invalid as it now stands, and possibly a money-loser for the city. Most of the tax revenue it produces will be captured by other governmental units.

The mall site makes inadequate provision for access to Jerome Road, creating the possibility that potential visitors to the Fallen Timbers battlefield site, an affiliate of the National Park Service, would be discouraged from trying to reach it. The developers seek to vacate Russell Road, which links the park with the U.S. 24 exit; visitors would have to detour around the western side of the mall.

Inevitably, this will invite unfavorable comparisons with areas more attuned to protecting their historical heritage, particularly Massachusetts, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Ohio generally gets low marks for its historical preservation efforts.

Preservationists sidetracked even the mighty Disney, which had sought to encroach on the Civil War battlefield of Bull Run. Whatever the life span of a mall may be, the Fallen Timbers park should draw visitors as long as this country exists, and it would spur historical tourism in the region.

Should the new mall indeed go forward, it is vital that the battlefield site nearby be protected.

Money to purchase the park site came from the federal and state governments, state, Lucas and Wood counties, and the city of Maumee. This park investment is too costly to be tacked on as an afterthought to a proposed site plan for the mall on U.S. 24. The city of Maumee should insist that any site plan for the mall be modified to provide adequate and screened access to the park and strong protection from the intrusion of a modern commercial area.

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