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Published: Wednesday, 12/18/2002

A one-mall town?

Those who believe that any expansion is good expansion are no doubt thrilled by the prospect of an even bigger Franklin Park Mall, rechristened by its new Australian owners as Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park.

But we see a potential downside to Westfield America Trust's ambitious plans to add some 256,000 square feet of space at the mall, a project that would include the construction of a completely new wing, a pair of two-level parking decks, a greatly expanded Dillard's store, and the potential future expansion of Marshall Field's.

In the first place, major mall expansions and substantial new retail projects are just not happening right now, not in a down economy that still has a long way to go to complete recovery.

So what then is Westfield's motivation?

Well, when we look around at what has happened to retailing in this city, we see a NorthTowne mall that might as well be called GhostTowne, a struggling Southwyck that tries to keep anchor stores from leaving, and a Westgate shopping center that figuratively catches a cold when nearby Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park sneezes.

Is it possible that Westfield wants to make Toledo a one-mall town, and that driving the other guys away is good for the bottom line? Could it be that Westfield simply wants to grab the market for itself and thereby pre-empt the competition from one day coming back to life? Does it hope to manufacture further doubt about the prospects for the new mall proposed near Fallen Timbers in Monclova Township?

Interesting questions, for sure. There are others.

What, for example, will become of Dillard's store at Westgate if the Westfield store is dramatically expanded, and what will that mean for Westgate's future, already clouded by the continuing concentration of retail just to the northwest?

And in our haste to make the Westfield complex the center of the region's retail universe, what will we be doing to the neighborhood?

Nowhere in the Toledo metropolitan region is traffic congestion more of a headache than in the Franklin Park area. Driver frustration in the Monroe-Talmadge-Sylvania area and the nearby Monroe-Secor Road intersection goes with the territory. It's where the concept of smooth traffic flow goes to die in this city.

The Toledo Division of Transportation says that 32,000 vehicles a day use Talmadge Road adjacent to Franklin Park. On the Monroe Street side, it's 26,000 vehicles a day. Along Sylvania Avenue, 25,600. Another 6,000 vehicles are projected if the expansion occurs. Toledo would develop an even worse case of clogged arteries, a crush of congestion that would become still more oppressive during the holiday shopping season.

When Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and a spokeswoman for Westfield, visited the mall in August, she had the right idea: She arrived in a helicopter.

Westfield America Trust, which owns 61 Shoppingtowns in the United States and scores more worldwide, frequently looks to enlarge its acquisitions, and has wasted little time bringing its expansionist business philosophy to Toledo.

Time, however, is something the city has. The planning commission is tentatively scheduled to take up the Westfield expansion for the first time at its Jan. 9 meeting.

It's imperative that the commission, City Council, and the Ford administration, take as much time as necessary, and fully consider what is truly in the best interests of the city and region, before signing off on a project that raises so many questions.



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