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While there’s still more than a year left for Dashing Pacific Group to develop the Marina District and make good on its promises, Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said Thursday he has no faith that anything will spring up on the 69-acre property as long as it’s under that company’s control.
“There’s a reality here,” Mr. Collins said. “Dashing Pacific is not going to build anything on that property. What did they build in China? Nothing. They created something in China; they created a name for themselves, and that’s all it was.”
The situation at the Marina District has clearly frustrated the mayor. Mr. Collins said he has been stonewalled in his attempts to meet with company leaders since taking office in January.
On Wednesday, he told an East Toledo crowd that if he didn’t get assurances by fall he would notify Dashing Pacific of the city’s intention to start marketing the property to new developers.
In a meeting with The Blade on Thursday, he said he won’t accept any half-baked efforts to show that work is being done.
“They’re not going to put a picnic bench and a Porta-Potty over there, for goodness sake,” he said.
Dashing Pacific bought the Marina District in July, 2011, for $3.8 million.
Mr. Collins voted as a member of city council to approve the sale, but said Thursday the buyback rights were an important caveat to the deal. Under the purchase agreement, the city can buy it back between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, if there hasn’t been “substantial” development.
The mayor’s conversation with The Blade’s editorial board on Thursday was wide-ranging. He gave a brief self-appraisal of his first six months in office and outlined some of his goals for the city. He spoke at length about a range of ambitious ideas, though some of them lacked firm details.
Mr. Collins seems particularly optimistic about downtown and its expanded residential base. He said the proposal by ProMedica to move its corporate headquarters downtown to the former Toledo Edison Steam Plant and the adjacent KeyBank building opens a wide range of opportunities.
“I think it’s really going to be a dynamic change for downtown Toledo,” Mr. Collins said.
The mayor said he had recently spoken with ProMedica CEO Randy Oostra, who told him that the hospital system would have some employees in the KeyBank building within a year. Mr. Collins also said ProMedica has committed to sponsor the new stage at Promenade Park and take over maintenance there.
Those claims were not corroborated by ProMedica, however.
“At this time we are still evaluating our options with regard to parking, so there aren’t any definitive plans at this time,” ProMedica spokesman Serena Smith said.
ProMedica has explored adding parking in the area of Promenade Park, but no firm decisions have been made.
Keeping the focus downtown, Mr. Collins said he was pleased with discussions surrounding the Erie Street Market.
A lease agreement is pending with a vegetable-growing business, and the city has had talks with grocer Lucky’s Market about locating in the building. Mr. Collins said Thursday another, unnamed grocery chain is now interested.
Mr. Collins also said he believes the University of Toledo college of law would be a good fit for downtown.
He said top university officials approached him two months ago about putting a visitor’s center at Goddard Field, at the intersection of Goddard Road and Bancroft Street near the university campus.
Mr. Collins said they brought with them renderings and asked about connecting a visitor’s center to the rest of campus by either going over or under Bancroft Street. Mr. Collins said he suggested they consider moving the college of law downtown and renovating the current college of law into a visitor’s center.
“I think there are opportunities down here for them, I think they just have to look at it. If we can figure a way to work with it we will, but I think that would be a great value added to downtown Toledo to have the law school there in terms of changing the whole character. The reason why I suggested that [is] they need a visitor’s center. They have it in the law school,” he said.
UT spokesman Jon Strunk said while there have been considerations of building a parking lot at the Goddard Field site off and on for some time, a visitor’s center is not being considered. He said no renderings of a visitor’s center building exist, though there have previously been sketches of a parking lot.
“Moving the law school downtown is not something the University of Toledo is considering,” he continued.
Lourdes University is another target for Mr. Collins. He said he has approached the university’s president, David Livingston, about doing something downtown.
“We would be very happy to work with him to bring a component of the Lourdes campus into downtown Toledo, with the significant emphasis on our Latino population, offering courses that would be a magnet for them, because we need to bring that Latino population in. They’re significant,” Mr. Collins said.
On blight, Mr. Collins said he inherited an issue that had been allowed to fester by previous administrations, some of whom did nothing to address it.
“Now in my first six months of office, I’m taking down the Clarion [Hotel], I’m taking down the smokestacks over there and cleaning up the mess that was left for me at the Marina District, so we are approaching this,” he said.
The mayor said he believes any progress on blight will have to involve neighborhoods, and work is under way on such efforts. He also continued pointing at Toledo Municipal Court, but said he is working to arrange meetings with judges and court officials to try to fix the problem.
Mr. Collins also has instructed the city law department to draw up search warrants for code violations and other nuisances at the empty Seagate Hotel and Spitzer Building downtown.
On crime, Mr. Collins continues to express concerns about the lack of concrete proof of the worth of static police cameras. He insisted he’s not against them in theory because they have the potential to be useful.
“But we shouldn’t step into a $1.8 million project without doing a satellite project to see exactly how it works in Toledo, because Memphis is the model we’re using, and Memphis has been listed as No. four, five, or six for the last five [years] as the most violent city in the United States by the FBI records and certainly isn’t a testimony for depressions of crime because of the use of cameras,” he said.
He said he wants to know how many court cases have used recordings as evidence,and his administration will continue to review the cameras.