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Published: Friday, 1/10/2003

Panel backs mall plan, tables cinema proposal

Renovation and expansion plans for Toledo's largest mall got a thumbs-up yesterday from the Toledo Plan Commission, but the panel deferred action on a controversial rebuilding plan for a Secor Road cinema.

All four commission members present accepted Westfield America Trust's vision to expand the 1.07 million-square-foot Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park by about 350,000 square feet, and attach two new parking garages to the complex.

Franklin Park will become “a place of entertainment, as opposed to a place to just go and shop,” said Jerome Parker, a Toledo attorney representing Westfield America Trust.

“It is crucial that this mall is repositioned for the future,” said Steve Seaton, Toledo's economic development director. “We have seen what has happened with other malls when that isn't done.”

Commission Chairman Steve Serchuck was absent when the panel voted to accept a plat change for the mall site and recommend City Council approve the revised Franklin Park site plan. Council's zoning committee will take up the site plan revision Feb. 11.

By the time National Amusements' parking-lot plan for its proposed reconstruction of the Showcase Toledo cinema complex reached the floor during the 61/2 -hour meeting, commission member Bernard Culp was absent too. The other three members approved Rey Boezi's motion to defer action for 60 days, effectively until the commission's March 13 meeting.

The theater chain wishes to replace its five-screen complex at 3500 Secor with a 16-screen megaplex that, unlike the current building, would have its parking lot in front. That layout has aroused the ire of neighbors and community planners who envision a pedestrian friendly “urban village” for the surrounding Westgate neighborhood.

Allowing the cinema to be set back 600 feet from the street would cripple the Walk Westgate concept, argued Peggy Daly-Masternak, one of two Westgate Neighbors members who spoke following National's presentation.

National Amusements representatives said they considered their proposal “a good compromise” between their firm's ideals and the Walk Westgate concept, noting that they had added a tree-lined pedestrian walkway through the 930-space parking lot's center.

A survey during the weekend after Christmas showed all but 66 patrons out of 5,861 who visited Showcase Toledo arrived by private vehicle, said William J. Towey, National's senior vice president for operations.

“It's our need, our desire, our necessity to take care of the vast majority of our patrons [who arrive by car] and accommodate the others the best we can,” Mr. Towey said. Richard Pearson, the firm's consulting traffic engineer, later described pedestrian activity in front of the existing cinema as “extremely low.”

But Ms. Daly-Masternak argued that citizens would never regain control of their surroundings if the development is allowed to continue the way it has been done.

“Someone is going to have to be first to hear, `No,'” she said.

Mr. Boezi's motion to defer, which he based on a need to receive additional information from city traffic planners, appeared to at least postpone a defeat for the National proposal.

Robert Savage, the acting chairman, noted that a 3-0 vote was necessary for approval, and member Sue Wuest had made it clear that she considered National's proposal to be a “missed opportunity” for the cinema to serve as a “catalyst for change” in the Westgate area.



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