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Published: 5/17/2004

Officials work to preserve mall's essence

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Civic Center Mall in downtown Toledo is in line to be the site of three more public structures: a new county jail, a new home for Toledo Municipal Court, and a new federal courthouse. The Civic Center Mall in downtown Toledo is in line to be the site of three more public structures: a new county jail, a new home for Toledo Municipal Court, and a new federal courthouse.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

With three new buildings being considered for the Civic Center Mall, project coordinators say they have an opportunity to do something special in downtown Toledo.

What began as separate projects to replace the Lucas County jail, Toledo Municipal Court, and federal courthouse has become a coordinated effort to ensure the aesthetic continuity of the mall.

Linking the projects by collaborating on the design and locations brought representatives from three different governments to a meeting last week. The projects could cost more than $100 million to complete.

"This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," U.S. District Court Judge James Carr said. "If done right by all who participate, 100 years from now people will look back on this and say, 'Hey, they did something. They took that opportunity and made something of lasting and enduring significance for this community.' "

Linda Amos, senior vice president of Poggemeyer Design Group Inc., said her company was hired separately by the city and county to explore options for their projects. She said while working on the individual proposals it became clear that coordinating the projects made good sense.

"How often does it happen that you have three large entities looking at three significant projects in the same location? It really is an opportunity," Ms. Amos said.

The federal courthouse, which is to replace one built in 1932, is being planned for a seven-acre site at the north end of the mall between the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals building and the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department. Judge Carr said the goal is to have an architect selected for the project by the end of the year and have money approved for the building by the end of 2007. Judge Carr said he doesn't know if a firm cost has been established for the building at this point.

No firm decisions have been made about the building or siting of a county jail or municipal courthouse.

Harry Barlos, president of the board of county commissioners, said one plan calls for the Health Department to be moved - possibly to the former Riverside Hospital - to make room for either the jail or municipal court.

Keeping the jail on the Civic Center Mall would allow for it to continue to be linked by tunnel to the Lucas County Common Pleas Court and the municipal court. Earlier this year, Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak proposed putting the jail near the Toledo Correctional Institution, a state prison. The logistics of transporting prisoners may make that plan problematic, according to a consultant's report.

Replacing the county jail, which has been overcrowded nearly since the day it opened in 1977, could cost an estimated $50 million, according to Lucas County Administrator John Alexander. The county probably would issue bonds to pay for the project, he said.

Commissioner Maggie Thurber said the design of the jail and the other buildings in the mall should be representative of the justice system. "Our justice system is built around [the mall]," she said. "And we've built monuments to the people who have preserved that form of justice. What we do in that area needs to be fitting of the dignity of what goes on in those buildings."

Mayor Jack Ford said if a new municipal court building is constructed it should be appealing to the eye. "If it's done right the changes that are made will be good for 60 to 75 years," Mr. Ford said.

Toledo Municipal Court Judge Gene Zmuda said the number of cases handled by the court combined with the increased services offered there have caused a shortage of space in the 28-year-old building.

He pointed to a document hanging in Judge Francis Gorman's office that shows an entire day's docket in 1977 that fits on one page. In the same year, one of the judges had five cases set for trial in one day.

Judge Zmuda said on Tuesday, the docket was 10 pages long and he had 60 cases set for trial.

"That very small snapshot shows the difference between what the courthouse was like in 1977 and what it's like today," he said.

Peter Gerken, a Toledo city councilman, estimated it would cost $40 million to $55 million to replace the municipal court. He said if city officials decide to build the court, it should be coordinated with what the county and federal government have planned. He said bonds probably would be issued to pay for a new courthouse.

"If there is a chance to work with other governments in concert, you have to take advantage of that," he said.

Ms. Wozniak said working together on the projects might be fiscally beneficial as well.

"We might have more opportunities to get money if we work together," she said.

Contact Dale Emch at: daleemch@theblade.com or 419-724-6061.



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