After years of planning and 11 months of construction, the first tenant and anchor store of the University of Toledo's Gateway Project opened for business Wednesday.
The two-story, 18,000-square-foot Barnes & Noble Booksellers, which will consolidate and replace the current university book stores, blends a traditional campus book store with the chain's superstore model.
In a way, it's a perfect representation of what the project aims to do.
Officials see the $12 million development, funded by the University of Toledo Foundation, as a new way to connect the university to the community that borders it and ultimately help spur more private development along the campus' south border.
Matt Schroeder, vice president for real estate and business development at the University of Toledo Foundation, said the Dorr Street strip has a long history as a retail corridor. But recently it has been an area teetering on the edge.
"It was reaching that critical tipping point where there was deferred maintenance, there was blight, there was continued decline," Mr. Schroeder said. "Through working with that community and this first phase, we're really hoping this will set the tone throughout the rest of the corridor so that private developers, private investors, even single-family homeowners will continue to take that pride in their proprieties. And when they're at that critical decision point of 'Do I move away or do I invest in my property?' that they choose the latter and make that investment in their property."
Mr. Schroeder said the Barnes & Noble has been a great anchor for the project, helping draw other retailers to the campus and that part of the city.
Officials held a grand opening celebration for the book store Wednesday.
Many of the Gateway Project's other tenants, which includes a Jimmy John's sandwich shop, a Great Clips hair salon, and a wireless-phone store, are expected to be open in late July to early August.
The secondary anchor, a sports bar owned by Bruce Gradkowski, former UT quarterback and current Cincinnati Bengals backup, should be open in time for UT's Sept. 15 football home opener against rival Bowling Green. It is expected to have an outdoor patio that exceeds 1,000 square feet.
The development, located at the corner of Dorr and Secor Road, also features 48 market-rate urban loft-style apartments above the shops. Officials say they are 78 percent full and expected to reach 100 percent by the beginning of the fall school year.
Barnes & Noble has kept a presence on UT's campus for more than 20 years but never had a full-line presence. Still, Colleen Strayer, the store's general manager, said there was considerable interest from the public -- though the logistics didn't quite work out.
"I used to get emails multiple times weekly about where are you, where do I park, and I think they honestly gave up before," she said. "The big attraction for us was to get moved out to the corner, where people can see us, and we really see ourselves as the front door to the university."
Ms. Strayer said the store plans to work with the university to bring in student performers and is pairing with the college of education to develop regular children's programs.
Kesha Francis, a UT junior from Toledo, checked out the store Wednesday.
"It's nice," she said after surveying the interior. "It's an upgrade from the old store."
Officials say students will find that the textbook and school and dorm supplies section, located on the second floor, is similar to the old store.
The first floor is dedicated to general-interest books, periodicals, and gift items. It also features a cafe serving Starbucks coffee.
Wilma Brown, a former city councilman who represented that area, said she was ecstatic as she toured the new store along with current city Councilman Tyrone Riley.
"I think it's the beginning, and the cooperation between the university and the neighborhood is just terrific. It's something we've needed for years, and it's been building."
The store becomes the third Toledo-area location for Barnes &Noble. The company also has stores on Monroe Street near Westfield Franklin Park in Toledo and at the Shops at Fallen Timbers in Maumee.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.