Good move downtown

Bringing 700 ProMedica employees downtown can revive Toledo’s riverfront — once they have places to park


ProMedica's plan to place 700 employees in downtown Toledo can be every bit the “game changer” that Mayor D. Michael Collins says it is. If city and corporate leaders can resolve the parking challenges of accommodating so many new workers near the riverfront, the project can become a catalyst for downtown’s long-awaited revival.

Executives of the locally owned health care system planned to announce today that they are moving the company’s headquarters — and the bulk of its administrative work force — to the former Toledo Edison steam plant along the Maumee River, which was built in 1895 and has stood vacant for nearly three decades. Previous efforts to renovate the 180,000 square-foot building have stalled.

ProMedica executives say they expect to break ground within two years on the relocation project, whose value they estimate at as much as $40 million. The company will assign other employees to the riverfront building that houses the regional headquarters of KeyBank.

The bank plans to share occupancy with ProMedica, at least for now, of the 32-year-old structure known to older Toledoans as the Toledo Trust building. The project design calls for a walkway to connect the building with the steam plant.

ProMedica President and CEO Randy Oostra told Blade editors and reporters that his company also is talking to the YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo about making a public fitness center — if not a swimming pool, at least immediately — part of the project. He envisions the revived riverfront as a venue for retail, dining, and entertainment opportunities, and a way to encourage more people to move downtown.

As ProMedica adapts both buildings, Mr. Oostra says, the company will retain their distinctive architectural features, including the steam plant’s smokestacks. That will enable the project to qualify for historic rehabilitation tax credits.

Adding the payroll and tax base of ProMedica, the area’s largest employer, will benefit downtown, and the city, greatly. In return, it is reasonable to expect the city to make an appropriate investment in parking facilities for the project.

Mr. Oostra calls a parking garage under Promenade Park, which the city is expanding, a “good option.” Enhanced public transportation should be part of the package as well.

Mayor Collins is guarded about the kinds of tax abatements and other incentives the city can give the project at a time of budget austerity; he notes that Toledo taxpayers already have invested in preparing the steam plant for redevelopment. The mayor concedes that he “cannot write a check for a parking lot today,” and insists the city will not give away public space.

The mayor properly calls on state government to provide financial aid to the project, as an investment in regional economic growth. But creative local solutions, rather than an unexpected windfall from Columbus, are more likely to make the project work.

Toledo has been burned by would-be downtown and riverfront developers who offered big talk and little action. But the ProMedica project — as well as the Toledo Mud Hens’ plans to renovate the area around Fifth Third Field — seem made of sterner stuff. ProMedica and KeyBank deserve commendation for their overt, not merely rhetorical, commitment to downtown’s success.

KeyBank’s regional president, James Hoffman, calls the project “a really big deal.” Mayor Collins says the development provides “the seeds to change the city of Toledo far into the future.”

Dare Toledoans now dream of new lives for the Spitzer and Nicholas buildings, perhaps even the Fiberglas Tower? Why not? A dreary midwinter seems an ideal time to dream of — and plan for — better days for downtown, and the city.