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Published: Thursday, 1/12/2006

What about the East Side?

On game days at Swayne Field the streets were jammed with vendors and Mud Hens fans
On game days at Swayne Field the streets were jammed with vendors and Mud Hens fans
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IN THEIR determination to build a new sports arena near SeaGate Centre, county and city officials seem oblivious to two things: It was promised to East Toledo, and without it, the long-delayed Marina District remains a nebulous, vaguely defined non-entity.

Here we are in year six of the Marina District "era," and still there is no Marina District. And now local officials and business interests want to take the centerpiece of the project, a replacement for the hopelessly obsolete Sports Arena, and plunk it down on the other side of the river.

It is a slap in the collective faces of the citizens of the East Side, who can rightfully claim that the 2001 citywide vote on a waiver of Section 79 of the city charter allowed city participation in an arena project only if it went east of the river.

We worry what will become of the wonderful old neighborhood around Front and Main Streets - isn't it ironic that the only place in Toledo where there is a Main Street is on the East Side? - if the Marina District's most important element, a sports magnet, is taken away.

There is precedent for our concern.

We remember what became of another of Toledo's venerable neighborhoods, the Auburndale area, when old Swayne Field was demolished and the Mud Hens went away.

Though the ballpark, at Monroe Street and Detroit Avenue, was on the fringes of Auburndale, it was at the heart of the cultural and commercial excitement that gave the area life.

On game days, the streets were jammed with street vendors, newspaper hawkers shouting out the headlines - and fans from all over the city.

Many of them arrived by streetcar, and they crowded into nearby restaurants such as the original Red Wells and Linck's Cafeteria, and taverns like Dewalt's and its bar with 10 beer taps. Just beyond the right field fence, Mary Barrow Avery Florists accepted an occasional broken window in the greenhouse, the result of a long home run, as the price of doing business in such a bustling part of town.

When the team left and Swayne Field disappeared, so did the vigor and energy that defined the neighborhood.

Frankly we are disappointed that City Councilman Bob McCloskey, now that he has become an at-large councilman, has evidently abandoned his line-in-the-sand insistence that a new arena be built on or near the site of the old one - in his old council district.

He says now that he is "tired" of the whole thing and no longer has a problem with an arena on the west side of the river.

For that matter, where has the rest of East Toledo been on this issue? The Sports Arena is the one asset and the one advantage the East Side has had over the rest of the community, and it may soon be lost.

That would be regrettable for one very important reason.

While a new arena somewhere appears relatively certain, there are no guarantees at all that the Marina District will ever be built out as envisioned. And the old excuse that the Sports Arena site lacks easy accessibility for the rest of the city will go away the day the new bridge opens.

If the East Side loses the Sports Arena, it's fair to ask: Will the corner of Front and Main streets become another Monroe and Detroit?



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