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Published: Saturday, 10/8/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Plan for downtown unveiled

Volunteers emphasize reusing landmarks, historic buildings

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

To get where you want to go, it helps to have a plan. That's exactly what a group of volunteers led by the Toledo Design Center has drafted for downtown Toledo.

The 2011 Toledo Downtown Plan, unveiled to the public this week, sets forth an ambitious yet concrete vision for the city's central business district.

Crafted over nearly two years with input from planners, architects, businesses, city officials, and academics, the plan emphasizes making better use of Toledo's existing buildings and spaces, and drawing now-disparate sections of downtown into a vibrant, cohesive whole.

"We really believe that downtown Toledo has immense potential, and the stars are starting to align to make great things happen," Paul Hollenbeck, a design center architect, told a small gathering of residents, business owners, and other downtown stakeholders at a meeting Thursday to discuss the plan. "We think this is possible. We think it's the right time to do this."

The plan, which is subject to a public comment period before it can be submitted to Toledo City Council for approval, would replace a downtown proposal drafted in 2001.

At the time, Fifth Third Field was not yet up-and-running, and the Huntington Arena didn't exist. Those two venues, along with the SeaGate Convention Centre, now draw well over a million people into downtown every year, a momentum the plan hopes to build upon.

Key to the plan is linking these three entertainment venues and other downtown landmarks by providing a richer environment in which to walk around. Although the central business district appears large and disconnected now, it is about the same size as Westfield Franklin Park, Mr. Hollenbeck said.

This drawing shows the changes to South Superior Street for a proposed Event Place as part of the "20/20 Vision" improvement plan for downtown Toledo. This drawing shows the changes to South Superior Street for a proposed Event Place as part of the "20/20 Vision" improvement plan for downtown Toledo.
2011 TOLEDO DOWNTOWN PLAN Enlarge

What's needed in downtown are interesting spaces. Residential and commercial buildings. Restaurants and shops that connect landmarks together, he explained.

"We realized the area is quite compact already," Mr. Hollenbeck said. "We don't have all that far to go from where we are to where we want to be."

Five areas are identified in the plan as focal points for revitalization.

Around the Madison Avenue and Huron Street intersection, planners pinpointed three landmark historic buildings for mixed-use commercial, office, and residential redevelopment, possibly helped along by tax credits for historic preservation.

The mothballed, 17-story Nicholas Building at 608 Madison Ave. is owned by a California-based company but another out-of-state developer with experience in restoring old buildings is expected to buy it before the end of the year.

About half the adjacent 10-story Spitzer Building, owned by the same company and also pending sale, is occupied by businesses, but planners would like to see it fully restored to a first-floor retail area with small offices or apartments on the upper floors.

Also on Madison Avenue is the 19th century-constructed Nasby Building, where planners envision a hotel for the building.

Redevelopment of the three core historic buildings would be supported, planners propose, by a 600-plus-space parking garage also near the intersection.

This would make up for a hoped-for reduction in surface parking lots throughout downtown, another element of the plan.

Richard Meyers, a landscape architect involved in the downtown proposal, said preservation of historic structures is crucial and planners favor reuse over demolition.

"We've lost far too many buildings already in the downtown," Mr. Meyers said. "We're really not about tearing down more buildings. We're about making use of the buildings we do have and filling in the missing gaps."

At Toledo's riverfront, planners would like to see redevelopment of the vacant Fiberglas Tower on St. Clair Street, now renamed Tower on the Maumee. The building's owner, Lansing-based Eyde Co., is planning a makeover but still needs to secure private-sector funds and tax credits to move the project forward.

Also highlighted for redevelopment are the row of waterfront businesses along Summit Street known as Fort Industry Square and the old Steam Plant.

These structures would be linked by an expanded and redesigned Promenade Park.

On the south side of Superior Street, the plan suggests creating a closed-off pedestrian area between Jefferson and Monroe Streets that would merge with an events area, now a parking lot.

North Superior Street, meanwhile, ideally would become a bustling restaurant and shopping corridor reinforcing the link between the Huntington Center and the Valentine Theatre.

The plan also highlights efforts, spearheaded by the city and Lucas County, to redesign the underutilized Civic Center Mall that would complement planned construction of a new federal courthouse.

When it comes to vacant lots, the plan proposes replacing a surface parking area next to the arena with another mixed-use commercial and residential building with underground parking. The large parking lot across from the Valentine Theatre would be replaced by a similar type of building. Likewise, a surface lot on the corner of Madison and St. Clair near Levis Square would become a retail, food, and entertainment venue.

Planners also propose turning an abandoned building next to the Park Inn Hotel into a 1,000-seat ballroom for SeaGate.

Of course, it will take an organized effort to achieve all these things. To spearhead the endeavor, the plan's authors propose the creation of a downtown development corporation to incorporate existing downtown development groups into one streamlined agency.

Some funding for the corporation could come from three parking garages the city is selling to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which has agreed to provide some of the revenue generated by the garages for the downtown development efforts, Mr. Hollenbeck said.

The plan met with enthusiastic approval from the public at the meeting this week.

Connie Hoffmann, 73, who has lived in Toledo all her life and has seen downtown through its boom and bust periods, said she relishes the idea of a town center.

"I think overall, it's absolutely fabulous," Ms. Hoffmann said. "You need to make downtown viable in order for the other areas to be viable."

Another public meeting is set for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the PNC auditorium, 405 Madison Ave.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.



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