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Mayor Jack Ford has endorsed a plan to bring Costco Wholesale Corp. to the Westgate Village Shopping Center, predicting it will "pleasantly surprise" critics of the warehouse retailer's proposed move to West Toledo.
The move distances the mayor from his three main rivals in the Sept. 13 primary election, who all oppose placing Costco in the wilting shopping center.
Once a bustling Toledo landmark, Westgate has deteriorated in recent years and seen several storefronts go vacant.
Its owners detailed a two-part redevelopment plan in a 40-minute meeting yesterday with Mr. Ford.
They told city officials they would show the proposal to Westgate tenants today.
Mr. Ford said yesterday the plan fits with the pedestrian-friendly shopping vision outlined in the "Walk Westgate" plan community leaders drafted five years ago.
"It looks attractive to me," he said, adding later: "It looks a lot different than anyone anticipated."
Workers in the first phase would replace Westgate's L-shaped buildings on the southwest corner of Secor Road and Central Avenue with a large store flanked by two smaller buildings, Mr. Ford said. One building likely would hold two larger stores or restaurants, and the other would hold five to seven, he said.
The second phase, which Mr. Ford said was still in conception, would include building new roads and more shops on the other side of Central, which currently includes vast and largely vacant parking lots.
The plans call for extensive landscaping, street improvements, and greenspace, two other elected officials familiar with them said.
Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Toledo Councilman Ellen Grachek said they were skeptical of Costco at first, but that the proposal appeared positive for the neighborhood.
"It is not a single Costco in the middle of a parking lot," Ms. Grachek said. "It is a series of buildings that keep with the village that we like to think Westgate is now."
Mr. Ford said the owners were still negotiating whether to keep any of Westgate's tenants in the redeveloped shopping center.
Costco and Westgate have not reached a binding deal to move here, officials cautioned yesterday, though a Costco executive said last week that the Issaquah, Wash., company expects to finalize one within a month.
The executive, Doug Schutt, was on vacation yesterday and unavailable for comment.
Mr. Ford's mayoral opponents - Republican Rob Ludeman and Democrats Keith Wilkowski, and Carty Finkbeiner - denounced a Costco move to Westgate last week, saying a large store could ruin the shopping center's character.
The mayor released a statement last week saying he was concerned "with the integrity of the neighborhood" in case of redevelopment.
His opponents remained skeptical of the Costco move, though all cautioned they had not seen the redevelopment plans.
Mr. Finkbeiner's spokesman said Mr. Ford should wait for nearby residents and businesses to back the proposal before endorsing it.
"If everybody supports it," Bob Reinbolt, the spokesman, said, "then maybe it's a good plan."
Mr. Ludeman said Mr. Ford's support of the proposal this week "certainly shakes some credibility" following the mayor's statement last week.
Mr. Wilkowski repeated his campaign-long jab at Mr. Ford's ability to follow through on other development announcements.
"I would be very cautious about this phase two, if he's promising something that's in the future," Mr. Wilkowski said, "because his record of producing things is very poor."
Mr. Ford said he and his staff have worked more than 2 1/2 years on a Westgate revitalization, which he estimated could bring 200 jobs to Toledo.
Costco, he noted, has a reputation for paying employees well and providing health benefits.
He said such an addition would be "a win for the community" and a refutation of critics who have accused him of not doing enough to boost the city's economy.
"I don't know what else we could do to show people we're working our fannies off to create jobs," Mr. Ford said, "but we are."
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