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Published: 10/20/2003

A civic center update

IT ISN'T clear that a new master plan for the Civic Center Mall will generate more public use on its monument-strewn greensward. But it is obvious that in anticipation of government office expansion, the 1940s version needs a reboot.

The idea that there should be a mall guarded by a variety of public buildings goes back a century. Over time land was bought and buildings sprouted at the site, which got its first true plan in 1924.

The mall today is bounded by Cherry, Erie and Adams streets, and Spielbusch Avenue. The proposed civic center mall study area is larger, stretching from Madison Street at 11th, the better to include the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, east to Erie Street, where it goes north to Cherry Street, then south on Spielbusch Avenue where it zigs and zags from State to Canton then Smith streets, then veers down to Jackson Street, east to 11th Street and back to Madison.

Early dreamers hoped this mall would be as historic as the Boston Common, a downtown historic park where colonial Americans grazed their cows and buried the likes of Sam Adams and Paul Revere. It is sandwiched between Beacon Street, home to the Massachusetts capitol building, and Tremont and Boylston streets, which are devoted to commerce.

Back in the 1970s, thanks to the 1940 master plan and people intent that the civic center mall concept be retained, a move to plunk the municipal court building in the middle of it was thwarted. The Blade referred to that proposed intrusion as “The rape of the Civic Center Mall.” The structure was built in its current location instead.

Both city and county government have considerable investment in this mall corridor. That's reason enough to plan carefully for future construction on its periphery. A new federal building, and the possible expansion of both the jail and the municipal court are in discussion.

It is too late to mandate architectural uniformity. And wrong. It would stifle imagination, locking Toledo's architectural history in the past rather than letting it evolve naturally.

Sculptural art and assorted monuments with which people laud those who contributed most to their era must be carefully managed. They belong in a mall like this one, but shouldn't overwhelm it.

The success of the mall as a people venue depends a lot on national, state, and local economies. If downtown revives, mall traffic will pick up. In the meantime, Lucas County Commissioner Maggie. Thurber is right to propose a new plan, and Mayor Jack Ford is correct to see its potential.



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