WITH demands on Ohio s budget increasing and revenues shrinking, it undoubtedly will appear foolish to some that the state OK d $3 million to clean up a building that has been vacant for more than a decade and likely will remain so in the near future.
That would be a narrow vision. This infusion of state funds is, in fact, an affirmation that Toledo is moving in the right direction and an acknowledgment of the hard work that has gone into revitalizing the city s downtown in recent years.
The Clean Ohio Council approved the grant from the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund to remove asbestos from the former Fiberglas Tower, the once-proud symbol of Toledo s corporate strength but for the last 12 years a dark reminder of the downtown s decline.
The 392,000-square-foot building s owner, the East Lansing, Mich.-based Eyde Co., has committed $1 million to match the grant. Asbestos contamination has been one of the primary reasons that attempts to find tenants have failed.
When Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. moved into the tower in 1969, Toledo was full of life. Seven Fortune 500 companies called downtown home, as did many hotels, department stores, brokerage houses, banks, restaurants, and bars. Sidewalks teemed with workers, shoppers, and entertainment-seekers day and night.
Since the 30-story building closed in 1996, it has loomed over and been a symbol for the increasingly empty sidewalks, storefronts, and buildings of a downtown abandoned and largely forgotten in the exodus of people and businesses to the suburbs.
As long as it is empty, it will remain a monument to the city s failure to keep up with the times.
Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, the state s development director, is no stranger to the Fiberglas Tower. He toured it in 1998 during his unsuccessful run for governor against Bob Taft. Years later, he said that the memory of floor after empty floor of office space stuck with him as a dramatic and compelling problem.
In more recent years, the opening of Fifth Third Field, the development of the Marina District, the construction of a downtown arena, and the growing popularity of downtown living have raised hopes for a more positive future for Toledo.
But the restyled Tower on the Maumee, second in height only to the 32-story building at One SeaGate that bears Fifth Third Bank s logo, continued to be an embarrassment to the city.
Demolition has never been an option. Asbestos sprayed on the floor and ceiling of every floor as a fireproofing, as well as the tower s steel-girder skeleton, make tearing it down prohibitively expensive.
Nick Eyde, a limited partner in the Eyde Co., hopes to turn the tower into a mixed-use building with a 96-room hotel, 49 condominiums, and 120,000 square feet of office space, including a restaurant and health club.
While the current recession, and especially the struggling auto industry, have put a damper on local revitalization efforts, it is evident that Toledo and the tower s developers are on the right track.
Mr. Fisher, chairman of the Clean Ohio Council, recognized that progress and remembered his long-standing commitment to giving the Fiberglas Tower new life. By pushing for the asbestos-removal grant, he is saying that despite the poor economy, Toledo is worth investing in.
Although the tower remains a painful scar on Toledo s skyline, we agree with Mr. Fisher s vision. As tough as times are now, the emergence in northwest Ohio of industries related to green technologies and the trend toward urban living suggest a bright future.
Getting rid of asbestos contamination in Toledo s first modern skyscraper is a worthwhile investment in that future.