COLUMBUS - Fifteen years after the state renamed One Government Center for a former Democratic governor from Toledo, the Ohio Building Authority yesterday agreed to honor the late Republican Gov. James A. Rhodes by affixing his name to the plaza and fountain in front of the office tower.
“This is one of those rare occasions when you have bipartisan support,” said authority board member George Gerken, a retired Toledo police department sergeant.
“It's a large and beautiful plaza, and it befits his memory,” added board member Sandra Drabik, vice president and general counsel for the University of Toledo.
The next step is for the state Building Authority to put up a sign with Mr. Rhodes' name on the plaza. Mr. Gerken said private dollars will have to be raised for a statue or monument.
A bust of former Ohio House Speaker Vern Riffe, which is in the state office tower in Columbus that carries his name, cost $250,000, said Paul Goggin, the building authority's executive director. Mr. Goggin estimated that the bronze statute of Mr. Rhodes in front of the Rhodes state office tower on Statehouse Square would cost $350,000 now.
Toledo Mayor-elect Jack Ford said he will form a group to raise private dollars for a statue or memorial to Mr. Rhodes.
“We will be eager to participate in that. I have a picture in my office of Governor Rhodes and myself when I was 18. I've always been a fan of his. It is a significant step, perhaps not as large as I would like to have seen, but does commemorate a great son of Ohio.”
Mr. Ford backed naming the new I-280 Maumee River bridge after Mr. Rhodes. A bill to name the bridge Veterans Memorial Skyway is pending in the General Assembly.
Mr. Rhodes, who died March 4 at the age of 91, was Ohio's longest-serving governor and was instrumental in the construction of Government Center in downtown Toledo. He was in office from 1963 to 1971 and from 1975 to 1983.
In addition to the city-county-state office tower on Jackson Street, Mr. Rhodes was the driving force behind creation of the Medical College of Ohio, a project he backed in the 1962 election in which he defeated first-term Gov. Michael DiSalle, a former Toledo mayor.
One Government Center was named for Mr. Rhodes in 1983, but the decision was reversed after Democrats took control of the Ohio Building Authority under Gov. Richard Celeste. On June 18, 1986, the structure was renamed for Mr. DiSalle.
“DiSalle had nothing to do with the Toledo building,” former Rhodes spokesman Jim Duerck, told The Blade in 1986. “It was built by Governor Rhodes and usually you name buildings after somebody who had something to do with them.”
On March 7, during a House-Senate session to honor Mr. Rhodes, state Rep. Jack Ford (D., Toledo) apologized for Democrats removing Mr. Rhodes' name from Government Center.
All five members of the state Building Authority are appointees of Republican governors: two by Gov. Bob Taft and three by former Governor George Voinovich.
Mr. Goggin said no one had asked the board to rename the 22-story building, which Toledoans refer to as Government Center instead of the DiSalle Government Center, for Mr. Rhodes.
Mr. Trail said the proposal was supported by Mayor-elect Ford and “opposition to the mayor-elect,” a reference to the man Mr. Ford defeated in Tuesday's election: Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest, who initiated the idea.
Ms. Drabik noted that her first job in state government was in the Department of Administrative Services during Mr. Rhodes' final term as governor, from 1979 to 1983.
Mr. Goggin said his first job in state government was during Mr. Rhodes' first term.
Mr. Trail said he first worked with Mr. Rhodes when he was state auditor in the 1950s.