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Published: Sunday, 2/20/2000

A first step into the next 1,000 years

BY GEORGE TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo has been on a roll, and there's no reason to believe it won't continue in the near future, at least.

Unemployment is at an all-time low. A $600 million Jeep plant is set to open. Construction will begin this year on a downtown home for the Toledo Mud Hens, one of the most recognized team names in sports. The city's most popular metropark is ready to expand.

Meanwhile, downtown's revitalization has kicked into high gear, as has development of the central city's suddenly chic riverfront.

All of this adds up to a rosy near-term future for the city.

All this success has done wonders for the mindset of Toledoans. Once it was fashionable to belittle the city for all its failures and inadequacies. That is no longer the case. It's true that Toledo is not for everyone. Outsiders passing through and singles under 30 find it lacking in many areas. But for others, particularly those with families and local ties, Toledo offers an affordable, less stressful alternative to larger cities that seemingly have more to offer but where life is considerably more complex.

On the business side, the opening of the new Jeep plant this year signals a new era in the city's lofty manufacturing heritage. It's true that keeping the company in Toledo cost the city a fortune and that the full impact of the expense has yet to be felt or determined. Yet as long as DaimlerChrysler AG continues to flourish, Jeep's presence in Toledo likely will yield only positive results.

In the early 1990s, critics said the state of Alabama paid too much for a Daimler plant in Vance, where the company launched its successful Mercedes sports utility vehicle. But the plant brought other businesses to Alabama and, just as important, gave the much-maligned state a boost in image and self-confidence.

Similar things likely will happen to Toledo with the opening of the Jeep plant.

Meanwhile, unemployment, once a huge negative for the city, has almost vanished, leaving another problem in its wake: A lack of qualified workers in a number of fields.

Still, the local economy booms. Only 4 per cent of area companies expect their business to decline this year, according to a survey of 287 firm's by Toledo's Regional Growth Partnership. And 95 per cent of them expect sales and production to increase or keep pace with the high levels of last year. Also, 78 per cent of firms reported that they will invest a combined $490 million in new equipment and buildings this year.

Downtown's resurgence, as detailed elsewhere in Focus, has added a new dimension to Toledo's future success. If similar urban revitalization projects in cities like Cleveland, Akron and Indianapolis can succeed, there's little doubt that Toledo will, too. Key is the new ballpark, which will be located in the Warehouse District. Already, nine months before groundbreaking, a number of buildings in the district have been sold to developers hoping to cash in on the boom. With an inventory of nearly 200 buildings, three times as many as Akron's revamped and successful warehouse district, Toledo's district is poised for a strong re-birth.

One of the city's most prized possessions is its eight-member metropark system. This fall, its most popular park - Wildwood Preserve - will open its much-anticipated 77-acre expansion. The park system, often taken for granted by many locals but marveled at by outsiders who say they have nothing like it in their hometowns, is a crucial component of the city's future because it provides easy access to a quiet, natural haven.

That's not to say there aren't problems. Traffic is growing out-of-control, drivers run far too many red lights, and pot holes continue to multiply.

Despite its foibles, the city is, in many ways, in better shape than at any time in its 165-year history. The future appears bright. Anything is possible.

 

 


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