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Published: 5/13/2006

My town: Downtown dweller develops lofty hopes for his adopted community

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The roof of the Bartley Lofts condominiums, where Blade staff writer Christopher D. Kirkpatrick resides, features a swimming pool but also provides an impressive view of downtown Toledo s skyline.
The roof of the Bartley Lofts condominiums, where Blade staff writer Christopher D. Kirkpatrick resides, features a swimming pool but also provides an impressive view of downtown Toledo s skyline.
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I used to joke with my younger brother, Matthew, that he was like a tree sloth a creature that never moves during its lifetime more than 3 feet from its home tree (in his case Washington, D.C.).

He wouldn t visit me in North Carolina. But I should have looked in the mirror.

He eventually moved to Greenwich, Conn., and got married. He rides the train into New York for work everyday when he is not doting on my 2-year-old niece, Amanda. In his new job, he travels throughout Europe and Asia. Compared to me, he was Phileas Fogg (David Niven) in a balloon circumnavigating the world in 80 days.

Just as he was taking flight, my family was starting to wonder about me. I had acquired some tree sloth characteristics myself, living in Durham, N.C., for about 10 years and working at the Herald-Sun newspaper for not very much money. By 35, I was getting too comfortable and wondering what would be next.

A job offer from The Blade knocked me out of my Deep South torpor, and in the summer of 2004, I was riding in my car and inspecting downtown Toledo condominiums for purchase.

I remembered from a tour of Toledo during an earlier job interview with The Blade that the ballpark seemed seamlessly built into the brickwork of the area. The Warehouse District and its new ballpark brimmed with potential like a line of unwritten poetry in your head that promises romance but might fall flat, depending on its execution. The mental words and meaning always seem to change when you write them down. How would Toledo s leaders write them down, I wondered would it be economic development poetry or sentimental claptrap?

Just like Durham s downtown, where the Triple-A Durham Bulls play, residents waited for years for something to happen to the tobacco warehouse buildings full of high ceilings, history, and loft space that surrounded the ballpark.

In the Bull City, as they call it, elected officials fought about who would pay for parking decks, and residents from outlying areas wondered if Durham was safe. Over the 10 years I was there, I wondered if it would ever shake the downtrodden textile and tobacco factory image. It was considered the rough corner of the Triangle, the name for that area that also includes Chapel Hill and Raleigh.

I decided to buy a Bartley Lofts condominium with the same hopes for Toledo as those Durham residents have for the Bull City. It took six more months for the condo to be finished, and there is actually a pool on my roof. In the meantime, I lived in the LaSalle apartments at 513 Adams St., also downtown.

The fact that a Bartley Loft existed, and only one block from the Fifth Third Field, was a good omen. But like those parking deck development wars (and others) in Durham, here the local political rivalries, consternation over a new sports arena, manufacturing job losses, and other economic and political issues threaten like dark clouds in the distance.

Is a storm coming or a golden sunrise? Usually it s a bit of both. Economic development, growth, job creation it s really a waiting game, like waiting for the storm or hoping for better weather. Or waiting for that career break.

I feel like better weather, but I have been accused of eternal optimism.

Even so, I have discovered that I would be happy spending most of my time downtown. I can walk to work, walk to one of two markets, Monat or Market on St. Clair, for groceries, and catch an occasional ball game.

I m not just a tree sloth, anymore, but one with purpose.

Some questioned why I would move from North Carolina to Toledo. I answered, Why not? I grew up in Detroit, and it felt like home. When I arrived here, some questioned why I would move downtown. I guess everyone and everywhere has its pecking orders.

Immediately upon hearing that I lived downtown, a new friend asked me if it was safe. Of course, it s safe, I said, tempered by Detroit and New Orleans, where I went to college. There s no one there.

But that s not really true. A better answer might have been: The people who are in downtown are there for a reason good reasons.

They are diners at Diva, Georgio s, and the less fancy Tony Packo s and Spaghetti Warehouse, among other restaurants. They are here to watch opera at the Valentine Theatre, and they are here having lunch each and every workday. They venture onto Adams Street, where a bar-and-restaurant scene seems to be taking off. They are sampling the new pizza and grinders from Bellacino s, Middle Eastern food at Ranya s, and last month, they were here for opening day at the ballpark.

They are here but it has to be more than restaurants and shops to have staying power. What would be the element that turns a tourist stop or a good place for a Saturday night into a good place to live?

We seem, I hope, to be at the beginning of answering that question, at the beginning of something.

We are now here owning property and starting new businesses. Some, like my new dentist and friend, Larry Schmakel (the last dentist downtown), or Diva restaurant owner and friend Jim Zaleski, have never left.

I could probably survive have everything I need without ever leaving downtown. But I am not really an odd-looking tree creature; I love to travel short and long distances. Most recently I have been discovering some of the outlying areas. The small towns with the fertile soil of river valleys that brought settlers and immigrants here to farm when it was the farthest inhabitable point west. The black dirt and open space represented hope and freedom.

It brought me to an Easter dinner and to a surprisingly organized and competitive family baseball game in Luckey, Ohio. It s played each year with tennis balls and elaborate rules instituted by members of the extended family, who were visiting the family farm on Easter last month. I was a happy guest.

Downtown is my home and Toledo my new town.

But it is as easily a gateway outward to wonderful country and suburbs as it is a gateway inward to the heart of the city and all of its hopes and dreams for the future.

They now seem to be so intertwined with my own.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com or 419-724-6077.



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