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Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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Published: Friday, 5/23/2014

CULTURE SHOCK

Culture in Toledo? You bet

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The announcement that the Toledo Zoo took top honors in an online USA Today poll Wednesday probably wasn’t a surprise to anyone who has been to our zoo in the last few years.

It’s a world-class facility and a true asset to the community. In fact, the Toledo Zoo and the Toledo Museum of Art were two of the city‘s selling points pitched to me and my family when considering relocating from Las Vegas nearly six years ago.

I’m sure Tony Packo’s was name-dropped into the bullet-point, pro-Toledo conversation as well.

Truly, these are all great reasons to live in northwest Ohio. Yet, whenever I mention to born-and-raised Toleodans how I arrived at their city, by way of Texas and then Las Vegas, invariably the response is Why? As in, “Why would you leave that for this?”

Well, have you ever been to the Las Vegas zoo? No? Well, neither have I. And that’s because the Las Vegas Zoo, while well-meaning, is a depressing place to visit, with a limited amount of animals kept in small cages. Everyone I talked with about the zoo warned me not to go. In fact, a coworker said she left the zoo in tears and vowed never to return.

She wasn‘t alone.

The Las Vegas Zoo closed for good nearly a year ago, following numerous complaints to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and later, the mass exodus of all zookeeping staff. Clearly, there wasn’t the community support to keep it going.

So, Toledo has that over Las Vegas.

And then there’s our art museum.

Shortly before I packed up for my cross-country move, I talked with the director of the Las Vegas Art Museum for a story about one of its contemporary fine art exhibits.

When I told her I was leaving for Toledo, her eyes opened wide and she smiled. “The Toledo Art Museum,” she said with reverence and a hint of jealousy.

She then spent the next five minutes informing me of how wonderful the Toledo Museum of Art is, and its high-standing in the art community.

Almost a year after I left Las Vegas, the museum closed its doors as well.

So, a city with a metro population of nearly 2 million residents — about 1.2 million more than metro Toledo — has no city zoo and no major art museum.

Prior to their closings, the Strip hotel-casinos offered their own cultural experiences in world-class touring art exhibits and small animal-habitat experiences. But those are expensive — trust me — and not permanent. They’re also not part of the city’s fabric and cultural identity, but touristy gimmicks to serve the financial needs of the hotel-casino owners -- not the needs of Las Vegas residents.

As for food ... Las Vegas might have world-class restaurants, but it cannot compete with Toledo when it comes to world-class chili dogs. Packo’s. Rudy’s. Central Hot Dog. Jan’s Famous Chili Dogs. The Original Coney Island Hot Dog. Netty’s. There are more places to eat chili dogs in a roughly two-mile span on Monroe Street, between Secor and Talmadge roads, than in all of southern Nevada.

Toledo also has more art museums and zoos.

Even better, one of them just happens to be the best in the land.

I intend to point this out the next time someone wonders why I would leave Las Vegas for Toledo.

As the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority marketing slogan-turned cliche goes, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Fine with me. I’d rather live in Toledo anyway.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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