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Some weeks ago, ProMedica announced the relocation of as many as 800 of its employees to downtown Toledo. The idea is to consolidate them into one headquarters from many corporate locales.
Many people were thrilled, including our new mayor and this writer. It seemed to be just the boost we needed. In the time that has followed, two things have happened — seemingly contradictory. One is that other business and entrepreneurs have shown an interest in downtown Toledo. The other is that the inevitable doubters and naysayers have surfaced.
In recent days, I have heard the following: “This deal is far from done.” “The old steam plant (where along with the Key Bank building on the river the employees are to go) will be a can of worms.” “The parking problem must be solved or it is dead.” And even, “It will never, never happen.”
So what is the status of the ProMedica downtown project?
I went to the source. I asked ProMedica’s CEO, Randy Oostra.
The answer is: All-ahead-full. It’s on.
The project is not simple. And ProMedica officials announced the thing six months before they wanted to, because word had leaked out. But this is going to happen. And if we stay positive and work together, it will happen sooner rather than later.
Put it this way: It must happen.
And sooner would be better because of the domino effect — a happy domino effect in this case. If we build it, others will come.
I must pause here to say this: Mr. Oostra is the real deal. He is the best of leadership I have seen in Toledo — focused, no-nonsense, and deeply humanitarian. He talks about how big health-care providers have lost their sense of mission and service. He says ProMedica’s healing mission is not limited to patients, but applies to the community at large. He tells me about a big hospital that recently built itself a billion-dollar headquarters. “Why not,” he asks, “build a $900,000,000 headquarters and invest $100,000,000 in the community?” He says: “We have resources. If it makes business sense, it behooves us to invest in Toledo.” He says this sort of argument is not a tough sell to make to his board of directors.
This is a guy who answers your questions directly and succinctly and knows exactly what he is doing. And he loves Toledo. It’s his home.
So what about the parking problem?
It’s not really a problem unless we make it one.
ProMedica wants all its employees to be able to park in one place, close to the new headquarters. Many work a wide variety of hours and they need convenience and security. The company is on record as wanting to build a parking garage on the site of the old Federal Building, which would keep parking on the Steam Plant side of the river and take a sliver of Promenade Park. But neither access to the river nor a view of the river would be adversely affected. The view would be “framed,” but much more handsomely than the Federal Building (often called the ugliest building in Toledo) framed it. Overall use would actually be enhanced. Employees will park for free in this garage and the public will have access after hours and on weekends. ProMedica has also committed to building a stage. The park will be improved, not damaged by a parking garage.
What must the community do?
If ProMedica is to build, there needs to be a mechanism by which it acquires the parcel of land it needs. The city needs to help make that happen. Smoothly. Our area legislators need to press the state for bonding authority and funds. We need to support this project, not drag our feet or second-guess.
This is the first step in a downtown renaissance. Other businesses will want to be a part of it. They already do. If this goes well, I believe ProMedica will do even more.
Two immediate ancillary effects that I foresee — a first-class, well-run downtown hotel and a food market.
And, of course, with all of this in play, more people will then want to live downtown — near the action and the river.
I believe Mr. Oostra and ProMedica are fully committed. They are now in the phase of getting ducks in a row. But they need support. I think they deserve it. If there is a downside to this project, I’d like someone to tell me what it is. We torpedo this and there is nothing but downside for years to come.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.