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UpTown Toledo thirsts to market the area as a destination

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Toledo lawyer J.P. Smith and UpTown s new executive director, Julie Champa, are eager to tout the attractions of the district between the Old West End and downtown Toledo.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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J.P. Smith has been president of the UpTown Association for eight years, but the former Toledo police officer has been walking the beat since the late 1970s.

For six years, the UpTown area before it was called the UpTown area was my police district, recalled Mr. Smith, now a general practice attorney. So I know every alley, every nook and cranny around here.

Prostitution and crime were big concerns in what was known in police parlance as Unit 20. So was the rising number of vacant and decrepit buildings.

That s when UpTown was wild. It was not considered desirable duty, Mr. Smith said.

Much has changed over three decades in the present-day arts and entertainment district and neighborhood, which spans more than 50 blocks between downtown Toledo and the Old West End and includes several popular food and drink establishments along Adams Street.

Although UpTown may have yet to become a popular stand-alone destination as is envisioned by some restaurant and business owners the district s stakeholders are sanguine about its potential.

Tomorrow, the nonprofit UpTown Association, incorporated in 1986, will have its first meeting since cutting ties last year with Neighborhoods in Partnership.

As part of the transition it hired Julie Champa last fall as its first executive director since the 1990s.

Ms. Champa was the last executive director of CitiFest Inc., which organized downtown fireworks and events such as Rally by the River.

Citifest dissolved after running out of money in 2007, and blamed the city of Toledo for saddling it with debt related to the beleaguered Erie Street Market, which the organization operated.

Ms. Champa led Citifiest for two periods: for three years until 1998 and starting again in 2003. She also managed the Erie Street Market for 18 months before a stint as marketing director for the city s Department of Development.

The board s vote to hire Ms. Champa was unanimous, Mr. Smith said.

If she was an unknown quantity to us, then that would have been an issue. But we were aware of the situation and everybody was comfortable with it, Mr. Smith said last week.

Another recent development is the formation of Village on Adams, an UpTown committee which includes owners of five UpTown bars and restaurants who coordinate resources and marketing for pub crawls and theme occasions.

The most recent event on Saturday, the Mardi Gras-themed Pardi Gras, lured revelers to Manhattan s, Wesley s Bar and Grill, The Attic on Adams, Bretz, and the Ottawa Tavern.

A recent arrival, the Ottawa Tavern opened last August at 1817 Adams St. Manager Tim Willford said he views the UpTown area as an emerging location that s poised to gain greater awareness across the region.

What we ve really been pushing for is to not just brand ourselves individually as a destination, but to brand the district as a destination, Mr. Willford said of the village group. It s a matter of changing perception and creating an atmosphere where people can really feel that they can be comfortable and come down here.

Mr. Smith said that lingering bad perceptions, particularly about crime, present challenges for the district. But things have markedly improved since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he made his patrols.

The Mercy Hospital emergency room was kind of our branch office; we were in there all the time, said Mr. Smith, who retired from the police force in 1999.

He noted that many of the once-vacant buildings were torn down.

About 90 percent of UpTown is commercial development and there are more than 200 businesses, according to the association. The association reported a high of 75 dues-paying members at the time of its 20th anniversary in 2006.

UpTown is creating a strategic plan with short and long-term visions for its district.

Our primary goal is to ensure the vitality of our member businesses, Ms. Champa said.

Contact JC Reindl at:jreindl@theblade.comor 419-724-6065.

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