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Published: Tuesday, 4/24/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Metropark plans advance downtown

BY TONY COOK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo leaders are planning downtown’s first Metropark — to be called Middlegrounds — on 28 acres south of the Anthony Wayne Bridge. Shown is a concept drawing of the site. Toledo leaders are planning downtown’s first Metropark — to be called Middlegrounds — on 28 acres south of the Anthony Wayne Bridge. Shown is a concept drawing of the site.
METROPARKS OF THE TOLEDO AREA Enlarge

Three years from now, Toledo's downtown riverfront could look very different.

Instead of a vacant steam plant, a fenced-off plot of grass, and a former railroad dumping ground, it could have a YMCA branch, new apartments, a city park with a fountain and concert stage, and downtown's first Metropark, stretching for half a mile along the southern riverbank.

Those developments -- long the pipe dream of Toledo city leaders -- are closer to becoming a reality thanks to several recent announcements.

First, Mayor Mike Bell received city council approval in March to borrow $2.2 million to renovate Promenade Park. Initial improvements would include landscaping and the removal of a road that divides the site, but plans ultimately call for a stage and a water feature as well.

Then, late last week, developer David Ball announced plans to convert the long-vacant Toledo Edison steam plant into a YMCA fitness center, a University of Toledo Medical Center health clinic, and 67 market-rate apartments.

UTMC is the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital.

And the good news for downtown's riverfront will continue next week, when the Toledo Rotary Club plans to donate $300,000 for a shelter that would be the centerpiece of downtown's first Metropark on 28-acres south of the Anthony Wayne Bridge.

With three big announcements in less than two months, long-suffering boosters of downtown have reason to be optimistic.

"I'm excited," said Bill Thomas, executive director of the Downtown Toledo Development Corp.

"I think we have more and more to offer in the downtown, and as more and more things come in, that makes it that much easier to get more people to live down here and work here."

The Rotary Club formally will announce its donation to the Metroparks of the Toledo Area at a May 3 event, in conjunction with the local service club's 100th anniversary. The $300,000 donation would give the planned park, known as the Middlegrounds, a major boost, helping it overcome a history of setbacks and delays.

Originally slated to open in 2010, the park would stretch half a mile south from the Anthony Wayne Bridge to a Norfolk Southern rail yard. Metroparks purchased the property using a $1.3 million federal grant, although Norfolk Southern retains a 50 percent interest in 9.5 acres of the site.

The park system spent an additional $200,000 hauling away stone, asphalt, concrete, old railroad ties, and other debris from the site, but a downturn in the housing market resulted in lower-than-expected revenue from a Metroparks property tax levy. That meant the regional park system had to rely more heavily on fund-raising for the project; it pushed the opening back to 2014.

More recently, the park's opening was delayed again because of state construction work on the Anthony Wayne Bridge, which will affect the northern end of the park. The Middlegrounds park is now expected to open in 2015.

The delay isn't all bad, said Metroparks spokesman Scott Carpenter. The Ohio Department of Transportation will build a parking lot for construction vehicles and has worked with Metroparks to ensure that the lot can be used for the park when the bridge work wraps up in 2015.

Mr. Carpenter said the three separate projects are creating a sense of momentum on the riverfront that will benefit each individually.

"I think we have a real opportunity to look for ways to partner if possible, or at least to complement each other," he said.

"When you go down on a Saturday or Sunday morning with your family to spend time on the riverfront, you don't really care where the Metropark ends and the city park begins. You want to have as much of a seamless experience as possible."

As with the other recent announcements, the plans for the Middlegrounds don't come with any guarantees.

For the steam plant project, which is to be called Water Street Station, the developer still needs to secure some of the financing from private lending institutions.

Still, the $16 million project has already secured $5 million in state and federal historic tax credits, according to Mr. Ball, who said he plans to put $2 million to $2.5 million of his own capital into the project.

In relocating the Summit Street Y in North Toledo to the new Water Street Station, the YMCA will lose an indoor basketball court and running track. But neighboring Promenade Park and the new Metropark will provide a great alternative to the indoor track, said Todd Tibbits, president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Greater Toledo.

"We feel very comfortable that three seasons out of the year, there's nice outdoor running right on the riverfront," Mr. Tibbits said. "In nice, developed cities, that's what you see."

As for Promenade Park, city officials said work is set to begin there after the July 4 weekend. Robin Whitney, commissioner of engineering services, said bids are due today for the first part of the project. That will involve expanding and reshaping the park by filling in Water Street and bringing in filler to grade into terraces.

City officials said that, in addition to the $2.2 million loan from the State Infrastructure Bank, $6 million will be required to complete the work.

The city is applying for state grants that would be used to create pedestrian and bicycle paths through the lower portion of the park. Administration officials said they are confident private businesses will step in with money for the final phase of the project, which would involve installing the water feature and stage.

"When the private sector sees the public sector has stepped up, it will be much easier" to get additional funding, Deputy Mayor Tom Crothers told council members in March.

Staff writer Claudia Boyd-Barrett contributed to this report.

Contact Tony Cook at: tcook@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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