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Published: Tuesday, 9/6/2005

Creative community mulls 2-pronged plan

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Some might think it s easier to plan a community than nurture an arts scene.

But the Uptown Association is trying to do both at once. The group s efforts to create an arts and entertainment village across a swath of land on the western edge of downtown Toledo has provoked a variety of reactions hope, interest, confusion, and skepticism from many in the arts community.

The first step occurred several weeks ago, when the Uptown Association succeeded in having a 230-acre plot of cityscape extending from Michigan Street to Collingwood Boulevard, from Jackson Street to Washington Street, designated as an entertainment district. The title allows for 15 discount liquor licenses to be secured by new businesses in the area.

But some of the district s natives wanted more than bars and bistros; they wanted a village. And they wanted art.

Michael McWhorter, owner of Creative Plexiglass on Adams Street, was one who stood up during a recent meeting of the Uptown Association s arts and entertainment committee weeks ago. Arts got added because of guys like me I wasn t interested in an entertainment village, Mr. McWhorter said.

He told City Council he wanted a Brueghel painting of shops and restaurants. Sixteenth century Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel s works sometimes featured busy street scenes.

While it s not clear how many council members got the reference, the area s identity-to-be is equally mired in the unknown and the abstract.

Most agree they want a mix of restaurants, shops, and businesses with an artsy theme to give it a unique flavor. With a brainstorming session scheduled in October the Uptown Association, Toledo Warehouse Association, Bowling Green State University, and the University of Toledo s Urban Affairs Center are expected to attend area business owners hope to define the area s identity.

But many artists, even those who live and work in the area, have yet to hear about the plans, or even catch whiff of the idea.

I think we need to do a better job of getting some leaders in the arts community. I don t think we have a good network of leaders from that community yet, said Martin Lahey, owner of Manhattan s on Adams Street and chairman of the Uptown Association s arts and entertainment committee.

But there are exceptions, tinged with hope and skepticism.

It is something we talk about, not every day, Janine Ody, a stained-glass artist and owner of Cristallo Architectural Glass Studio, which is in a large building at 333 14th St. Ms. Ody just moved to the Uptown area in January. Let s face it, from the art museum to the library, that s the fantastic Point A to Point B. It would be great to get it going.

I think if they continue working with the vigor and commitment they have then it s going to come to fruition, said Joe Zsigray, executive director of the Collingwood Arts Center, 2413 Collingwood Blvd., whose theater, studios, and 74 artist residents border the district. It s not a stretch to make that more of an arts venue, because there s some natural relationships going on right now.

But Michael Sheets, a painter and retired Springfield High School art teacher who owns a frame shop and studio at 1314 Adams St. ground zero for exactly where organizers hope to get the district going isn t as hopeful. Like Councilman Michael Ashford, he complained that the area is too large and would have a tough time drawing patrons from the suburbs.

Suburban [people] coming downtown to do the art walk? You re out of your mind if you have dreams like that, Mr. Sheets said.

The problem being, what are you marketing? The arts, in Toledo especially, are not an engine for development, he said. If you swept up with a big dust pan all the arts things, and put them on one street, you might have something.

John Pollock, a woodworker using the district s Gallery B at 436 13th Street to show his pieces, wonders where the arts area would be defined in the district. With several major boulevards vying for attention particularly Adams Street and Madison Avenue it currently lacks cohesion, he said.

It s viable, but for something to be successful, you have to have all the players on the same page, and in Toledo, you never seem to get that, he said.

Studios and galleries are spaced out across downtown Toledo, including 20 North on St. Clair Street and the Paul Brown Gallery on Jefferson Street.

The Common Space, a collection of studios on Reynolds Road, is not going to pick up and move down here, Mr. Sheets said.

But Gini Behrendt, who co-owns Gallery B, sees a fledgling network in place. She rents studios to two artists, and with pottery and bead making serves about 100 students a year.

Then there s the giant building at 333 14th St., with its slew of commercial artists, and the Toledo School for the Arts.

You start with a core, Ms. Behrendt said the core on Adams Street between 14th and 17th. Which sounds really good; it s cohesive, but by the same token, you ve got to stay open past 6 p.m. to keep business going.

Many business owners in the area agree that safety has improved significantly. Mr. Lahey and others said a few developers are poking around, looking at residential spaces particularly a large warehouse located at the corner of Adams Street and 13th, which would be turned into several floors of condos.

Some are starting to worry about the other side of the coin: What happens if the area becomes too marketable, and no artists will be able to afford space there?

You get it the way you want it, then somebody wants a piece of it, said Ms. Ody, who had studio space at 20 North St. Clair St., which once housed seven artists. Now, after renovations, it houses just one the rest of the former studios now belong to various working professionals.

Dave Gierke, development director for the Toledo School for the Arts, which moved into 333 14th St. last September, said such a transition is being discussed. But as for now, he said, the trick is to get it going in the first place.

I think if we build it, it ll happen. If we allow enough space for artists to create work and sell their stuff, it could be the new corner of Westgate, Mr. Gierke said. My concern would be what the city could do with what they can control.

It ll work if people will allow it to be what it will be, Ms. Behrendt said.

But when asked what, exactly, it will be, Ms. Behrendt smiles and shakes her head, suggesting you shouldn t ask such questions of an artist.

Contact Tad Vezner at:tvezner@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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