Pete Gozza says he doesn't put much stock in most master plans, even as he prepares to put one together as the new president of Downtown Toledo, Inc.
“Most of them,” he explains as he spreads about 10 of them across a conference table, “are full of bright colors, artists' renditions, and charts,” but they don't usually identify some of the most important issues, such as funding.
As head of a business development group in Hampton, Va., he said, he put together a plan that not only identified specific goals but figured their cost and where the money would come from. That, among other things, is what he hopes to do here, beginning with a public meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in SeaGate Centre.
The group has sent about 1,000 invitations and has advertised the event “because we don't just want downtown people but people from the suburbs,” Mr. Gozza said. “We need to hear from them about what will make the downtown more pleasing, more attractive.”
He said the group, formerly known as Downtown ToledoVision, Inc., hopes to have a master plan ready in about six months.
“It will spell out attainable goals and how they can be accomplished,” Mr. Gozza said. “It should be something, that if we all went away, someone could pick up five years from now and they would know what should be done and how it can be accomplished.”
Though developing the plan is a major undertaking, it's not the only reason he was brought here in August to become president of the group, said Bob Seyfang, a member of the organization almost since its inception in 1991.
“We've been effective, and we've hit a lot of singles, but we brought Pete in hoping to hit some home runs,” he said.
Mr. Seyfang said one of the aims is to have Downtown Toledo, Inc., be a first stop for those with development plans or who are hoping to open a business in the area.
“Private developers usually would prefer to deal with a private agency. We want them to come to us, because we can identify the things they will need to do.”
Mr. Seyfang, an architect with a business and home downtown, said bureaucratic layers in government can frustrate developers “but we know in advance what they'll confront, and we can help."
He said he met a developer from Indianapolis some years ago who had spent about three hours at Government Center being sent from one department to another.
He said not only did the woman leave without accomplishing her goal, she told him she wasn't very interested in coming back.
Downtown Toledo, Inc., he said, is a private agency supported by membership fees from downtown businesses. Its members have the local experience to help people interested in establishing businesses downtown.
Mr. Gozza said, since coming to Toledo, he has determined that one of the problems in encouraging downtown development is something he noticed about this city when he worked in downtown development in Monroe in the early 1980s.
“Toledo is still its own worst enemy. Development takes the path of least resistance,” and Toledoans must stop seeming surprised that someone wants to come here, he said.
The city should project an image of, “We love it here, so why wouldn't they?
“Attitude is everything," he said, quoting the theme of a campaign he started as an executive for an 1,800-acre commercial district in Hampton.
The district had been successful, but competition began to bite into the businesses, “and we had to think of a way to differentiate ourselves.”
The theme was printed on buttons and a special edition of a newsletter was printed for business owners and others in the district. Contests were held, and crews of Courtesy Kidz were hired to clean, entertain, open doors, and carry packages for people doing business in the district.
Not only was the promotion a success, resulting in higher occupancy and more sales in the district, but it convinced him that the theme was more than just a slogan.
Mr. Gozza said he hopes to bolster the enthusiasm about downtown's changes while helping add to the improvements.