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Published: Tuesday, 4/24/2012

Gathering steam

BLADE STAFF

Developers never lack ideas for reviving Toledo by adapting downtown buildings. Too often, these plans fade in the harsh light of economic reality. But there are reasons for cautious optimism about the latest proposal to transform the former Toledo Edison steam plant.

Toledoans are understandably skeptical. There is a long list of downtown projects that were abandoned, didn't get off the ground, still await completion, or left the city on the hook to repay loans.

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That list includes the Berdan Building, the former Fiberglas Tower, the St. James Hotel, the Marina District, and the Commodore Perry and Hillcrest hotels. And developer David Ball has announced other plans to redevelop the steam plant he bought seven years ago, none of which has made it beyond the drawing board.

In 2007, then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's administration sued Mr. Ball and his partner at the time, former basketball star Jim Jackson, for not following through on promises to renovate the site. They responded by withholding property taxes. Mayor Mike Bell dropped the suit shortly after he took office in 2010.

Why is there more reason for hope this time? Two credible partners have signed on: the University of Toledo and the YMCA of Greater Toledo. In Mr. Ball's latest proposal, the YMCA would rent some 13,000 square feet of the renovated steam plant for two meeting rooms, two studios, locker rooms, and a fitness area.

If money becomes available, there is room to add a pool. That would be welcome for people who live or work downtown: There hasn't been a downtown YMCA with a pool since 1980.

The University of Toledo Medical Center plans to open a 5,000-square-foot primary-care clinic in the refurbished building. The clinic would house a full laboratory and offer clinical care, wellness classes, and other medical services.The Y and UT would be strong anchors and excellent tenants.

The rest of the renovated building would include 67 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The three largest downtown apartment buildings -- Commodore Perry, LaSalle, and Riverfront -- are at or near capacity. The time seems right to expand downtown living space.

The project would be financed by private capital, federal and state tax credits, and loans. But Toledo and Lucas County would not have financial responsibility for the project -- a big selling point.

The proposed Water Street Station would be between Imagination Station and Promenade Park, which is about to enter the first phase of a planned $6 million expansion and redesign. The steam-plant renovation could help rationalize that expenditure and encourage more downtown development.

Like many other cities, Toledo is experiencing renewed interest in urban living. Entertainment venues, restaurants, apartments, and nightspots are expanding to meet demand. Amenities such as fitness centers and medical clinics seem sure to follow.

That suggests Water Street Station can gather enough steam to move forward.



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