As baseball fans flock downtown to watch the Mud Hens this summer, Joseph McCaffery is hopeful the new season will hit a home run for his new downtown ice cream parlor.
McCaffery, who owns Cold Fusion Creamery and The Market on St. Clair south of Fifth Third Field, is confident the surge of people visiting downtown this summer will add a fresh boost to the momentum already taking hold among growing business and residential districts near the Mud Hens' home. The team is predicting record-setting crowds this year - and merchants are standing in line to reap the benefits.
Today's home opener, which begins at 5:30 p.m., is sold out and more than 350,000 tickets have already been purchased this season. In 2002, the inaugural year of Fifth Third Field, a record 547,204 tickets were sold for Mud Hens games all season.
"You can feel the excitement," said McCaffery, who moved downtown earlier this year before opening both St. Clair Historic Village shops about two months ago. "We expect a dramatic, dramatic increase."
The prospect of warm weather, coupled with the surge in downtown visitors for baseball, was a recipe for success McCaffery couldn't pass up when he decided to invest downtown earlier this year.
"There's an interesting correlation between sunshine and people who walk streets," McCaffery said. "People who walk streets past ice cream stores tend to want to step in."
Alva Caple, owner of The Durty Bird, 2 South St. Clair St., started his business in March, 2002, when prostitutes still "hung out on the corner" in the Warehouse District and Fifth Third Field was still an idea, he said.
The 32-year-old moved into the district in 1998 and slept on various floors of the building at 407 Washington St. that he bought and renovated to be his home. The building nearby would eventually hold his bar and restaurant, which depends on Mud Hens crowds for about two-thirds of its business, he said.
"I love the Warehouse District. I got in about three weeks before the first season," he said. "I add something new every year; it's an ongoing project. There's a lot of building. It'll never be done. Last year, I added a stone wall. The previous year, I added a patio."
Just as The Durty Bird has grown over its three baseball seasons in existence, so has Toledo business in general around the ballpark. As the Hens embark on their fourth season downtown, entrepreneurs such as Caple and others have hope for continued growth.
"I was the only one down here in 1998. I moved down here and my car was getting broken into. It was a mess. It was a dark, dilapidated corner of the city," he said. "Any new restaurant or tavern that opens it takes time to figure out the market."
The Emporium, a restaurant and nightclub, opened at 25 South Huron St. last spring and has attracted steady crowds throughout the year. Toledo mainstay Tony Packo's Cafe is planning to open a location near Fifth Third Field next year.
With more development still in the works, people visiting downtown for Mud Hens games this summer will notice that several of the necessities are already in place - including a coffee shop, spa, hardware store, and eateries, such as Grumpy's Restaurant and the Bronze Boar. There's also a growing number of residential choices for people looking to move downtown.
"It's just a really cool place to hang out," said Kathy Steingraber, the executive director of the Toledo Warehouse District Association, who is considering moving downtown herself. "There seems to be a real trend to returning to an urban lifestyle. We get young people in their 20s and 30s coming downtown who like the old architecture."
One year ago, Downtown Latte opened its doors at 44 South St. Clair, and has quickly become a popular attraction. The Mud Hens season should give customers another reason to visit, co-owner Connie Dick said.
"It's steadily growing," Dick said. "We are getting new people every day with the ice cream shop open, the spa, and the market. It's really a draw here now."
Staff writer Christopher D. Kirkpatrick contributed to this report.
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