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Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Published: Monday, 2/25/2013

TARTA, city seek bus station with restrooms to replace ‘loop’

Valentine Theatre manager fears loss of parking lot

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

CITY OF TOLEDO/TARTA Enlarge

Over the years, the lack of curbside parking along Toledo’s Downtown Bus Loop has been a sore spot for merchants, who claim they lose business because customers can’t park right out front.

Now the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority and the city of Toledo have proposed a central bus station that would restore curbside parking on most of that route, but parking remains an issue.

The proposed station site would occupy most, if not all, of a surface parking lot across Superior Street from the Valentine Theatre.

And officials at the Valentine say losing that lot’s 360 spaces could devastate their patronage, especially among older audience members who prefer a short walk across the street and fear for their safety in nearby parking garages.

“Our patrons, as a rule, use that parking lot,” said Jori Jex, the Valentine’s general manager, who cited “a very thorough survey” of theater patrons. “The parking lot is accessible, affordable, and makes coming to the theater easier for them.”

Ms. Jex is thus eager to see what city officials might develop by way of changes to the plan to keep at least some public parking on the site.

“We are looking at some alternatives to the plan that could maintain some of the parking,” said Robin Whitney, commissioner of engineering services. “We should have that concept in the next few weeks.”

When the Downtown Bus Loop, a dedicated bus lane that encircles a 12-block area bounded by Erie, Jackson, and Summit streets and Jefferson Avenue, opened in 1982, it was promoted as a handy way for TARTA passengers to find their desired bus at any of the Loop’s five downtown stations, rather than have to know which downtown streets a particular route followed.

But since then, downtown Toledo’s retail sector has waned and pedestrian traffic has fallen off.

A consultant’s report to the transit authority recommended four years ago that the loop be eliminated in favor of the “single-hub” model.

Buses would continue to stop at other downtown locations, but the station on Jackson would become the only place served by every bus that enters downtown Toledo.

James Gee, the transit authority’s general manager, has said the single station would simplify his agency’s downtown operations, provide a passenger facility with amenities — such as restrooms — unavailable at the existing downtown stations, and be more secure for riders.

Plans first presented to city council in October, and since shown to other downtown Toledo interests — including The Blade, whose offices are on the far side of Jackson from the site — show a decorative canopy above an open-air bus-boarding area.

Buses would enter and leave on a two-way access drive that feeds a loop under the canopy.

Smaller canopies protect sidewalks and a bicycle station along the access drive, with an open lawn beyond the west-side walkway and trees along Huron and Superior streets. An existing building at Superior and Adams streets, renovated years ago but still vacant except for a storefront Subway sandwich shop, would house a visitors’ center and TARTA offices.

Except for that lone building, the block — historically known as the Paramount Block for the theater that once occupied a large portion of it — is owned by Commodore Island Properties, a unit of the Reuben Co. of Toledo, whose ReuPark subsidiary operates the parking lot. Lucas County land records show Macrid, Inc., of Arlington Heights, Ill., owns the building at 502 N. Adams.

Buying those properties is part of the $24 million — including $2 million for contingencies — the project is expected to cost.

A presentation about the project is to be given today to the Lucas County Bar Association, and meetings with other “stakeholders” are planned, Ms. Whitney said.

Mr. Gee said similar projects in such cities as Detroit, Cleveland, Akron, and Kent, Ohio, have received 80 percent Federal Transit Administration funding. So far, Toledo has not applied for money.

“Right now, it is still conceptual,” the transit manager said.

“Most of the feedback has been positive. It’s not only good for TARTA, but also good for the greater downtown Toledo. ... If smaller cities like Akron and Kent can do this, Toledo should be able to do it, too.”

Like Ms. Whitney, Mr. Gee said the Valentine’s parking issue is the only objection that has arisen to the Jackson bus hub.

He noted that the plan, which proposes eliminating the boulevard section of Jackson and creating two-way traffic on what is now that street’s westbound side, includes 75 new angle-parking spaces on the current eastbound side between Superior and Summit streets.

But Ms. Jex said such parking wouldn’t be enough to replace the lost spots in the ReuPark lot, and Jackson Street is at the wrong end of the Valentine’s block to be truly convenient for theater patrons, many of whom are older, reluctant to walk long distances in fine dress shoes, or both.

“If you’re in Chicago or New York, you wouldn’t think twice about it [walking a few blocks after parking] — but you’re in Toledo,” Ms. Jex said.

The Vistula and Superior parking garages, both within two blocks of the theater, are even less appealing to many theater-goers, she said, describing Superior in particular as dark and, with automated pay stations having replaced attendants in recent years, unsecure.

“People just don’t feel safe there,” Ms. Jex said.

And losing even 10 percent of business because of inconvenient parking “could be devastating to the theater” as well as to its regular performers, including the Toledo Jazz Orchestra, Toledo Opera, Toledo Ballet, Masterworks Chorale, and the Ballet Theater of Toledo, she said.

Matt Sapara, vice president for development of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which bought the Vistula and Superior garages as well as the Port Lawrence garage early last year from the city, said the perception of Superior being dark is outdated, because the port authority replaced all of the garages’ lighting last year.

Having an attendant on duty during Valentine shows, meanwhile, is something that could be considered, Mr. Sapara said.

Parking convenience is a “valid issue,” he said, and “the Valentine Theatre is an important step to the redevelopment of downtown Toledo.”

Mr. Gee said redesigning the bus hub to keep some parking would likely reduce the site’s green space.

He also acknowledged the irony of parking impacts being the main objection to downtown Toledo transit facilities, but said all means of access to the business district warrant attention.

“All of us want to make sure downtown continues to improve and rebound,” Mr. Gee said.

“We need to keep all of our options available to us as a community. To continue to improve Toledo, there is not one magic solution. We need better transit, better parking, better pedestrian access, and better safety. We all have to work together.”

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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