Playing the part of head cheerleader, rather than head micromanager, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner sought to rally Toledoans to a stronger economic future last night in his first State of the City speech since being re-elected.
Earlier in the day, the mayor laid out an elaborate welcome to lure Bass Pro Shops to select the Marina District as the site of one of its retail outlets. Only the owners of Westgate Village Shopping Center came in for a taste of the Finkbeiner ire.
The mayor said Toledo shouldn't settle for "minimum development standards" at Westgate, and he chastised an absent Liz Holland, chief executive officer of Westgate's corporate owners, not to make Toledo settle for low design standards.
Ms. Holland is seeking city council approval of a plan to redevelop the shopping center at Central Avenue and Secor Road for a Costco Corp. store.
Mr. Finkbeiner promised to kick off his "Get Fit Toledo" program soon, including a proposed path from the suburbs to downtown.
He said he would inaugurate weekly neighborhood walks to promote fitness and also to encourage communication among residents and community leaders.
He said his administration's first "town hall" meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday at Ottawa River School.
The speech, at Nitschke Auditorium at the University of Toledo, was attended by several hundred people. It ended with an unscripted singing of the city anthem "We're Strong for Toledo," led by singer Jean Holden and the mayor, and backed up by the city council, and other dignitaries who were summoned to the stage.
Mr. Finkbeiner emphasized education, neighborhood improvement, and economic development during his speech.
He called, in a general way, for a higher-performing school system. The mayor lauded Toledo Public Schools as the best of the urban school districts.
"But we must call on our schools to raise the bar so that when our children meet those new expectations, we will have a school system that ranks number one in the state," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Sounding like he was still in campaign mode, he said, "The Marina District must be, and will be, completed." And he said a sports arena "must be built," with the help of the county, but offered no details for such a project.
"A first-class entertainment venue at the Marina District will serve as a perfect complement to the Maumee River Crossing Bridge," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
He said he would form a 25-member Business Advisory Council to advise his administration and to review council legislation passed during the last 25 years. "We will work to rescind any laws that have hampered job creation," he said.
Mr. Finkbeiner said he would create a utility rate committee of "six, tough-minded, fiscally knowledgeable professionals" to examine why Toledo and Northwest Ohio "pay more than any other city or region in Ohio and Michigan for utilities."
He thanked the presidents of UT and the Medical College of Ohio - Dan Johnson and Lloyd Jacobs - for having the courage to merge the two institutions, saying it will be a bulwark against "brain drain."
He promised to establish a privately funded, summer youth program in city parks, and a summer-job program for high school students.
And he called on the community to come up with a plan for keeping COSI in Toledo. The science museum located in the former Portside Festival Marketplace is now struggling with deficits and is considering seeking a levy.
He said he would establish a "neighborhood pride" program to encourage homeownership, civic pride, and urban beautification, and a "gateway project" that he said would count on help from the private sector. Mr. Finkbeiner named Westgate, Deveaux, Lagrange, Southwyck, Birmingham, and Broadway as neighborhoods that have "distinct, and respected ethnic tradition" to be showcased and preserved.
He also repeated his campaign pledge to increase the number of police.
He said his "Walk the Neighborhood Program" will include religious leaders, community leaders, youth leaders, councilmen, and himself.
As part of the "Get Fit Toledo" program, he said the city would recommend diet and exercise guidelines, and that he would restore the minority health commission that was eliminated during the Ford administration.
The first beneficiary of the fitness program, he said, would be University of Toledo football coach Tom Amstutz.
After the speech, Mr. Finkbeiner said he envisions a walking/biking path stretching from where the Anthony Wayne Trail enters Toledo at South Detroit Avenue to downtown, using the median, if it can be done safely.
"Some of the traffic people I've talked to, not all, think most of that strip is doable because of the width of the grassy median," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Mr. Finkbeiner said he was going to work to diversify the city's economy to attract white-collar regional companies and wellness institutions. But he said it would require leadership from the business sector, after reciting a litany of the business titans of earlier generations. "We now need new leaders to step forward to ensure for Toledo and this region, a thriving present, and a vibrant future," he said.
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