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Published: Monday, 7/21/2014 - Updated: 4 months ago

Toledo’s business leaders like downtown’s future

Excitement over ProMedica move spurs survey by Mud Hens GM

BY STEPHEN GRUBER-MILLER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Business leaders recently participated in a survey about downtown revitalization in Toledo aimed as a “temperature check” to see where the corporate community stands.

It turns out that Toledo’s temperature indicates the city is on its way to a healthy downtown. Joe Napoli, president and general manager of the Toledo Mud Hens and Toledo Walleye, sent the survey to leaders of 20 downtown businesses including Fifth Third Bank, The Blade, Buckeye CableSystem, PNC Bank, WTOL-TV, and others who answered anonymous questions on revitalization goals and the steps needed to achieve them.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about downtown revitalization,” Mr. Napoli said, calling the survey an unscientific attempt to measure support.

He suggested that recent enthusiasm has been spurred by ProMedica’‍s decision to move its headquarters downtown, which would cost $40 million and bring 700 employees, and by the Mud Hens’ plans to develop the area around Fifth Third Field into Hensville, a $21 million shopping, dining, residential, and concert district.

The Lathrop Co., a construction contractor, also announced plans last week to move its headquarters to downtown Toledo after 34 years in Maumee.

“There seemed to be a genuine enthusiasm and a heightened sense of community around those announcements,” Mr. Napoli said.

At its most basic level, the survey — based on a Brookings Institution policy paper called “Turning Around Downtown: 12 Steps to Revitalization” — indicates agreement among the business community about the goal of revitalization. All 20 respondents agreed that: “The ultimate goal of downtown revitalization is to make it the community gathering place for residents, business, sports, entertainment, and culture that defines our community.”

Another important consensus was that revitalization needs to be managed primarily by the private sector, with respondents agreeing 16-1 that “Capturing the Vision” needs to be professionally managed by the private sector.

“The true investment in the downtown community has to come from the private sector,” said Bob LaClair, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank Northwest Ohio. But both Mr. Napoli and Mr. LaClair agreed that the city has a role to play.

“They’‍ve got to help clear the obstacles for investors,” Mr. LaClair said.

Toledo development director Matt Sapara said that it is important to maintain a collaborative relationship between the private and public sectors.

“The public side needs to create the environment where the private side feels comfortable investing their capital,” Mr. Sapara said. One way Toledo does this is through the Toledo Expansion Incentive, which offers a 30 percent rebate on income taxes paid to the city for businesses that bring jobs downtown.

Despite that collaboration, businesses seemed skeptical that a comprehensive revitalization plan exists.

Thirteen businesses answered false to the statement: “There already exists a strategic plan for revitalizing downtown Toledo that has been adopted by the community and is actively being managed,” with only one answering true and six saying they were not sure.

Business leaders also recognized the importance of building downtown as a residential and entertainment destination, in addition to an office location. Sixteen out of 20 respondents agreed on the need for high-density market rate and affordable housing and 17 out of 20 agreed on the need for parks, open space, and waterfront development.

“As a business leader you want to have an environment where people are out on the streets ... and looking to downtown for entertainment,” Mr. LaClair said.

The survey results show most business leaders agree — 18 out of 20 said crowded sidewalks signal a safe environment and provide an excitement and spectacle that draws people to the area.

More than 7,500 people live in downtown Toledo compared with very few 10 years ago, according to Mr. Sapara, and he expects that number to grow. He said the prospect of jobs, entertainment, and residential options downtown all work together as a catalyst for growth.

Mr. LaClair described the revitalization process with an an appropriate analogy given the Mud Hens’ large role in encouraging development.

“In a baseball term, maybe we’re in the third inning,” he said, meaning early in the game.

Which gives Toledo plenty of time to hit a home run.

Contact Stephen Gruber-Miller at: smiller@theblade.com, 419-724-6050, or on Twitter @sgrubermiller.



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