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Published: Wednesday, 6/27/2007

Can the market make it?

OF THE many economic development puzzles facing the city of Toledo, the Erie Street Market must surely be one of the most intractable. On paper, it should be a great idea. In practice, it has, at best, been on a rocky road.

The reasons for this are uncertain, although numerous theories have been put forward: It's in the wrong place, selling the wrong things. Parking is a problem. Getting there is a problem. Toledoans don't want to come downtown. Why go to that market when you can go to a supermarket nearer to home?

One fact to ponder while considering the future of the market is that the 11th manager of the facility in the last 10 years has just been named. Connie Hoffmann, who had been acting market manager since the resignation earlier this month for health reasons of Carl Schmidt, now has been given the job by the board of CitiFest, Inc., which operates the market.

It will be a challenging task for Ms. Hoffmann, but one in which we hope she is given every chance to succeed. The market, which has promised so much for so long, and yet in many people's eyes failed to live up to that promise, remains an important part of downtown redevelopment plans.

The timing is right for a relaunch, with the ongoing success of Fifth Third Field and the businesses that have sprung up around it. The coming arena will mean more people downtown.

But in order to succeed, the new market manager will need the tools and funding for success. She will need a clear vision of what should be in the market. What can make it a destination that will draw shoppers away from the strip malls or suburban markets and bring them downtown?

It is evident that the market needs to offer goods not found elsewhere. There's no point in replicating a supermarket's inventory.

With the market on the city's list of properties up for sale, one of those thoughts must surely be that unless a workable formula for drawing sufficient shoppers can be devised, perhaps it is time for the space to be put to an entirely different use.

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