Loading…
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Current Weather
Loading Current Weather....
Published: Monday, 6/13/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Heart of Sylvania is a bellwether for Ohio

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Downtown Sylvania boasts a variety of shops and restaurants despite the economic challenges of recent years. But it has struggles too, as customers suffer layoffs and trim their spending. Downtown Sylvania boasts a variety of shops and restaurants despite the economic challenges of recent years. But it has struggles too, as customers suffer layoffs and trim their spending.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Leading up to the November, 2012, presidential election, The Blade will profile some of the precinct voting districts in our region. This is the first in an occasional series.


Standing behind his bar in Sylvania’s North Main Street business district, restaurant owner Jerry Assad compares the effort to earn a living to the kind of activities found in an amusement arcade.

“I’m like a pinball,” said Mr. Assad, 42, owner of Jenna’s Mediterranean Restaurant, 5629 North Main, as he waited hopefully one afternoon last week for an evening crowd to materialize.

“You get a little taste of it one week. Next week you’re back down again. It’s a roller-coaster ride,” he said.

Mr. Assad’s business is in the center of Sylvania City Precinct 4, one of 16 voting precincts in the city of 18,965 that grew 1.6 percent in the last decade.

Precinct 4 boasts the old town business district, the upper-middle-class Sleepy Hollow subdivision, and some of the older neighborhoods that have been around since Sylvania was a farm town, before it became a built-out bedroom community for Toledo.

Also inside its boundaries are Toledo Memorial Park cemetery, Highland Meadows Country Club, Sylvania Northview High School, city administrative offices, and the Sylvania Historical Village with its 19th-century log home, schoolhouse, and railroad depot.

Politically, Precinct 4 is shaping up as a bellwether for Ohio.

The precinct of 1,029 registered voters went narrowly for the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden for president and vice president in 2008, in a proportion similar to the 51.5-to-47 percent victory that made them winners statewide. At that time, the precinct was two precincts that were combined in 2009.

A bicyclist heads north on Summit Street near Orchard Drive. Sylvania City Precinct 4 includes the downtown business district and surrounding residences that date back to the city’s early days. A bicyclist heads north on Summit Street near Orchard Drive. Sylvania City Precinct 4 includes the downtown business district and surrounding residences that date back to the city’s early days.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
And it went narrowly for the Republican ticket of John Kasich and Mary Taylor for governor and lieutenant governor in 2010, just like the state of Ohio, which elected Mr. Kasich over Democratic incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland and his running mate, Yvette McGee Brown, 49 to 47 percent.

Seventeen months away from the next presidential election, Sylvania seems poised for an economic revival, if one ever comes. As one indicator of stability, the city’s 2010 housing vacancy rate of 6.4 percent was lower than the 11 percent of Lucas County overall and the city of Toledo’s 13.9 percent, and tied with the city of Oregon, but not as good as most of the other townships and municipalities in Lucas County.

The city income tax depends on relatively recession-proof employers such as Flower Hospital and the Sylvania school district, rather than manufacturing. As a result, tax revenues fell only 3 or 4 percent a couple of years ago and in May rebounded for the first time above the revenues at the start of the recession, according to Mayor Craig Stough.

Sylvania avoided layoffs but curtailed overtime, left jobs vacant, and spent its reserves to make up for the revenue declines.

Outside of Sylvania, “everyone is just losing their jobs. People are upset about everything right now,” said Elliott Golding, 21, a cook at Jenna’s. “Sylvania is really cut off from the rest of the world. There’s a lot of old money here. The Reve Salon is still packed every day,” Mr. Golding said of the business next door to Jenna’s.

Angie Sawyer, 27, a hairstylist at the salon, said it has weathered the recession well.

She said many of her clients seem to have plenty of money, but she also has clients who are struggling.

“There’s a lot of my clients whose husband lost a job or were laid off, but they’re still coming. They might cut out the spa and the massage, but for the haircut, most definitely,” said Ms. Sawyer, who commutes from East Toledo.

But while there are restaurants, gift shops, a music store, and the Reve Salon, there were very few strolling customers on the street on this particular afternoon.

To boost activity in its downtown, the city is trying to implement a market study that sees Sylvania as a center for high-value businesses and the retailers and service merchants that cater to them.

The centerpiece is the SoMo project — meaning south of Monroe Street — which will create an office and entertainment development on Main Street that will aim to draw retail customers for that area.

“The city’s perspective is we need to create some more support for those retail owners from the standpoint of generating more traffic and filling in with additional retail to make it a destination,” said Sylvania councilman Mark Luetke.

Bill Sanford, Sylvania’s economic development director and safety director, said the city is in planning to apply for a federal community development block grant of $400,000 that will be available to upgrade the downtown business district. The plan is to be done by next February.

Among Precinct 4’s voters is Republican Mary Zraik, treasurer of the upscale Sleepy Hollow homeowners association. The residents there agreed by a 92 percent vote several years ago to rebuild their distinctive covered bridge over Ten Mile Creek, the cost of which is being assessed to the property owners.

But in this economy everyone must economize, including the homeowners association. One day last week, Mrs. Zraik replaced the burned-out light bulb in the illuminated neighborhood marker on Monroe herself rather than pay an electrician $65.

Mrs. Zraik, 70, hasn’t decided whom she’s going to vote for in the GOP ranks. She liked what Donald Trump had to say, and she knows she’s not going to vote for President Obama, whom she blames for continuing economic uncertainty.

“Business people are not going to hire new people. They just don’t know what’s going to happen. Taxes are too high,” Mrs. Zraik said.

Several Democratic voters contacted by The Blade said they’re sticking with President Obama.

“I think he’s on the right track,” said Leonard Hansen, 68, a retired chemist who lives on Monroe. “I don’t know why you would expect this thing to turn around in two, three years. He’s one of the first who’s done something significant about health care. Anything that moves this country to a national health-care system I would support.”

Democrat Donna Schantz, 69, of Country Place, said “[President Obama] has done a fine job.” She said he inherited “a monumental mess” that was years in the making.

She said killing terrorist Osama bin Laden was “a huge boost” for the President, but as a big supporter of Israel she said President Obama’s calling on Israel to return to its pre-1967 boundaries was “a step backward.” She said she believes Mr. Obama will win re-election.

The upscale Sleepy Hollow area agreed by a 92 percent vote several years ago to rebuild its distinctive covered bridge over Ten Mile Creek, the cost of which is being assessed to the property owners. Currently, the homeowners association is trying to cut costs. The upscale Sleepy Hollow area agreed by a 92 percent vote several years ago to rebuild its distinctive covered bridge over Ten Mile Creek, the cost of which is being assessed to the property owners. Currently, the homeowners association is trying to cut costs.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Ms. Schantz has personal experience with the slumping economy — she lost her job as an engineering records manager in the automotive industry. In the meantime, she designs and sells jewelry.

As for the city of Sylvania: “I think Sylvania’s doing OK. I don’t think we’re doing great.”

Republican Walt Norris, 55, a semiretired businessman who owns downtown property, said he thinks President Obama is making the economy worse by refusing to address the nation’s growing debt. He’s hopeful the GOP will put up a strong candidate.

“I just don’t think they have a candidate that can beat him,” Mr. Norris said. He believes that whoever wins the Republican nomination can win in November, 2012 — “but somebody needs to step up to the plate.”

Precinct 4 has almost as many politically undeclared voters as Republicans and Democrats combined.

One of those voters is Karen Kirwen, 45, a hospital medical technologist.

“I’m pretty much on the fence,” she said. Her concerns are economic recovery and getting the United States out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Luetke, a Democrat and political marketing consultant, said the voters of Precinct 4 might not necessarily base their votes on the economy.

“If in fact the voters of Sylvania feel economically secure they will probably move on to a number of other issues that they feel affect them as well, but the major hurdle is getting past the economy first,” Mr. Luetke said.

Contract Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. If a comment violates these standards or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report abuse. To post comments, you must be a Facebook member. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.

Related stories