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Published: Tuesday, 5/15/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

Volunteers step up to beautify Toledo's neglected flower beds

Planters overgrown with weeds on the median on Cherry St. near the North Summit intersection. Planters overgrown with weeds on the median on Cherry St. near the North Summit intersection.
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Toledo is set to bloom with special events this summer, but many of the city's flower beds won't be blossoming along with them.

For the third year in a row, the Bell administration has opted to forgo funding for planting and maintenance of the city's once-immaculate medians and planters. In the midst of the city's inaction, however, several businesses and community groups are stepping forward to do some of the work.

In downtown Toledo, volunteers are planning to hit the streets with their gardening gear this weekend, Downtown Toledo Development Corp. director Bill Thomas said. The weed-strewn medians and barren planters along Summit Street and in Levis Square will receive some tender loving care from the employees of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as a local Boy Scout troop.

Downtown lawyer Frank Jacobs, meanwhile, is rounding up funds from local banks and other businesses to pay for planting hundreds of flowers along Cherry Street on the approach to the Martin Luther King bridge and eastward for about a block and a half. Mr. Jacobs initiated the project last year after despairing at the sight of the city's ragged-looking downtown planters.

The median in front of the Toledo Museum of Art is filled with weeds and void of any colorful flowers. The median in front of the Toledo Museum of Art is filled with weeds and void of any colorful flowers.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"Cherry Street is the gateway to the downtown from the 280-interstate, so it's an embarrassment when people come to the downtown and see it overgrown with weeds," he said. "I certainly don't want to be embarrassed by my own hometown."

Elsewhere, community groups and business associations are also doing their part. The Exchange Club in partnership with the Sanger Branch Library plans to adopt some pots and a median along Central Avenue in West Toledo; neighbors in the Pickford Park and Walbridge Park will do some planting; and businesses along West Sylvania Avenue and in Point Place all plan to pitch in with their own planting efforts, parks and forestry commissioner Denny Garvin said. The Toledo Warehouse District Association will tend to the area around the Toledo Farmers Market, and a median on Summit Street, group president Diane Keil-Roe said.

"It's really gratifying to see my fellow Toledoans helping to make our city look pretty," Mr. Garvin said.

City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said Toledo government just doesn't have the funds to plant and maintain flower beds this year, despite signs of improvement in the city's finances. A recently announced $326,000 surplus is being used to refill the city's rainy-day fund, which disappeared under the duress of the economic downturn, Ms. Sorgenfrei said. The decision not to fund the planting of flowers is an economic necessity, she added.

Planters overgrown with weeds on the median on Cherry St. near the North Summit intersection. Planters overgrown with weeds on the median on Cherry St. near the North Summit intersection.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"When we're trying to build up the ranks of our police department versus hiring somebody to pull weeds and plant flowers, we're going to hire a police officer," the spokesman said. "The economic reality is we're going to evaluate the priority. So we do rely on volunteers and we appreciate those who have stepped up."

The Bell administration has committed to turning on sprinkler systems in the beds planted by volunteers. But Mr. Garvin acknowledged that, with 360 city-owned flower planters and 144 flower gardens, many areas won't be seeing colorful blooms this year.

That's too bad, said former mayor Carty Finkbeiner, whose administration prided itself on decorating the city's main thoroughfares with well-tended flowers each year. Planting within the medians and planters costs just a few thousand dollars, a small price to pay for beautifying the city, Mr. Finkbeiner said.

"Its' a great disappointment to me that we have so little vision for what doesn't cost a great deal of money," the former mayor lamented. "When you abandon streets and you abandon parks and you abandon urban beautification, basically what you are abandoning is pride in the city in which you live. I think that's a tragedy."

The funding shortage comes at a time when Toledo is preparing for several big events, expected to draw hundreds of visitors into the city.

In August, navy vessels and officers will descend on Toledo for Navy Week, and the city will celebrate the War of 1812 bicentennial. In June, the Toledo Museum of Art will host the Glass Art Society's annual conference.

Art museum officials said local company Neville Landscape and Tree Services has offered to design and plant in the medians that run between the main museum building and the Glass Pavilion, which are currently strewn with weeds.

"I think the museum is very committed to having a beautiful campus and we view it as kind of a gift to the city to help with city beautification," museum communications director Kelly Garrow said. "We want to be part of a beautiful Toledo. We're happy to work with a local business to do this."

Robert Logan, a truck driver who works next to the Anthony Wayne Trail at Western Avenue, said he understands that the city doesn't have the money to do the planting itself. He said city crews mowed the grass along the trail in the past week, and he won't be disappointed if they don't plant flowers.

"I can live without some flowers," Mr. Logan shrugged, adding that he's more concerned about crime and potholes. "In time, the economy will get back up. If they get the money, spread it around."

But Aaron Polte, manager at PizzaPapalis where employees tend to planters outside the business themselves, said the city should be doing more to keep up its flower gardens.

Mr. Polte said he's also volunteered with neighbors to plant flowers close to where he lives along Willys Parkway.

"Honestly, I don't think it can be that much to plant a few flowers," the manager said. "We want it to look nice, so we do it. But it's the city's property, so you'd think they would want the same."

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

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