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Published: Wednesday, 8/13/2003

Federal Building site ideas revisited

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

More than two years after Toledo's downtown Federal Building crumbled under pressure of public opinion and a wrecking ball, what is left is a fence, some grass, and plenty of potential.

The question is how to organize it.

“It's a lot of stuff, and it's a small site,” said Steve Seaton, director of Toledo's economic development.

According to the downtown Master Plan finalized in 2002, the site of the former seven-story building and surrounding Promenade Park area should host an amphitheater, some parking, greenspace, and a complex that could accommodate a mix of uses, such as housing and retail.

Mr. Seaton and Pete Gozza, head of Downtown Toledo, Inc., met yesterday with representatives of Carter and Burgess, a Fort Worth, Texas-based firm that will conduct a feasibility study of the suggestions.

“Their role will be to refine the plan,” Mr. Gozza said.

The consultants will determine what or how much of the plan fits where and how utilities and pedestrian and motor traffic fit into the picture. Additionally, they will work with an engineering firm that will review any Maumee River-related issues with the site - “You can only dig down so far before you hit water,” Mr. Seaton said - and SSOE, Inc., a local design group.

Results should be in by the end of the year, and construction could begin as early as 2004, Mr. Seaton said.

Meanwhile, the employees of the former building, which housed offices as diverse as the FBI to Social Security to the U.S. Postal Service, have carved out space elsewhere downtown. Most have relocated to the nearby Four SeaGate and the Ohio Building.

David Wilkinson, spokesman for the General Services Administration, said most of the offices are now permanent, as the government shifts from owning real estate to leasing space.

Toledo's Federal Building was never intended to be replaced, though the city several years ago swapped a site it owned near the downtown federal courthouse for the land on which the Federal Building sat.

The site near the courthouse is now leased back by the city as a parking lot, until a federal courthouse is built. Design is scheduled for 2004, but it's contingent on Congressional approval of the funding, among other things, Mr. Wilkinson said.

The government's shift into leasing its office space is “actually great news” not only for downtown landlords, but also for anyone who does business there, said David Ball, owner of the Ohio Building.

Employees who before were concentrated in one building are now mingled with other downtown workers as they eat lunch or do daily errands, Mr. Ball said.

“It makes them feel more a part of the community. It puts them on the street,” he said.

Mayor Jack Ford said he's less concerned about the loss of a single downtown building than with the development of the park.

To that end, he has spoken to Mr. Ball and NBA standout Jimmy Jackson about placing condos at the site. In separate interviews, both men said they are drawing up plans for such housing, but neither would offer details.

Both said they're excited to work in the area, though.

“I think the park is a synergy zone that has to be cultivated,” said Mr. Jackson, who last week announced a car care business he plans along Dorr Street.



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