Keeping it cool

A revitalized Warehouse District is helping enliven Toledo’s downtown and bolster the city’s tax base.
A revitalized Warehouse District is helping enliven Toledo’s downtown and bolster the city’s tax base.

To redevelop older urban areas such as Toledo, central cities must attract young, educated professionals. Members of the so-called creative class drive the new knowledge-based economy.

As middle-class taxpayers and residents, they bolster cities with declining populations and provide tax revenue to support essential services. They also create retail markets for businesses and employers who are based in the central city or thinking of locating there.

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Over the past 25 years, living in the city has become cool again. Still, the young professionals and empty-nesters who are returning to the central city demand certain amenities: safe streets, dense and walkable neighborhoods, proximity to clubs and other entertainment and art venues, architecturally interesting lofts, condos, and apartments, and access to reliable public transportation.

In Toledo, the Warehouse District is a magnet for investors and young and retired people who seek an urban experience. It must remain a vital part of the city’s overall redevelopment strategy.

A Toledo City Council committee has taken a good first step by approving the first formal plan for the downtown Warehouse District. If the full council approves the plan, Warehouse District advocates will provide a set of proposed zoning rules and design standards.

The Toledo Warehouse District Association would appoint an architectural review committee composed of two property owners, a resident, a business owner, and an architect or planner. The committee would rule on proposed projects.

The master plan before the council is essential to preserving the urban-village flavor of the district. It would ensure that new and renovated buildings complement historical architecture and maintain a pedestrian-friendly environment.

The guidelines protect the investments of current and future property owners and developers, some of whom will spend millions of dollars to convert former industrial buildings to offices, lofts, apartments, and other projects. Boundaries for the Warehouse District, which has 86 acres extending to Monroe Street, include Fifth Third Field.

Three-quarters of the district’s zoning is now industrial. The plan would shift zoning to “urban village” and commercial. It aims to improve parking lots, which encompass nearly a third of the district, and to stop further building demolition.

Not surprisingly, a few property owners worry that the plan could hinder growth and property renovation. But the plan is not inflexible or excessively restrictive; in the end, it will protect the investment of everyone in the district.

Since 1989, the Warehouse District has grown from six residents to more than 500, thanks partly to the opening of Fifth Third Field in 2002. Developed as a warehouse, wholesale, and distribution center, the district declined during the Great Depression but remained a center for warehouses, bars, and strip clubs.

Today, a revitalized Warehouse District is helping Toledo maintain its population, its tax base, and a vibrant downtown. Preserving its urban village elements would protect property owners’ investments and maintain an effective redevelopment effort for all of Toledo.