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Frequent visitors to downtown Toledo and its waterfront probably have noticed the upheaval and construction noise along North Summit Street next to Promenade Park.
Months after city council ended its opposition to Mayor Mike Bell's plans to revitalize the park, the first phase of renovations is under way.
Since July 9, workers with heavy equipment have been hauling large piles of soil to the land where the Federal Building once stood. It is next to Promenade Park and adjacent to the former Toledo Edison steam plant. Giant rollers are smoothing down the soil to elevate the site, fill in the street next to it, and connect the land with the current Promenade Park site along the river.
The plan is to double the size of the park and create a graded slope from North Summit Street down to the Maumee River.
"This will really make a dramatic change," said Robin Whitney, city commissioner of engineering services. "It really will look quite different."
This first phase of work, which is being carried out by Schoen Inc. of Toledo under a $388,000 contract, is expected to take until October.
The money is part of a $2.2 million state loan the city plans to use on the park renovations.
The contractor will need 18,500 cubic yards of soil to complete the first phase.
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The balance of the $2.2 million will be used for remaining park renovations, including sowing grass seed, which workers will spread across the entire site and let it settle over the winter. In the spring, the city plans to begin landscaping and to add features such as pathways, benches, and improved electrical and lighting infrastructure for the boat dock area, Ms. Whitney said.
Eventually, the city also wants to build a stage on one side of the park and create a water feature, although details and financing for that phase have yet to be identified.
Bill Thomas, president of Downtown Toledo Development Corp. and a major contributor to the design of the new park, said the changes are expected to revitalize downtown, bringing more visitors to the waterfront and complementing other development projects in the area, including a plan to convert the adjacent steam plant into apartments, a health clinic, and a YMCA branch.
Mr. Thomas said he hopes the park will become a signature landmark in Toledo's downtown, much as Millennium Park is in Chicago. It would be a place to hold concerts and smaller events, as well as a place to enjoy the river, he said.
"All great cities have a great downtown, and all great downtowns have a great park," Mr. Thomas said.
The removal of trees that lined the now filled-in Water Street has created a clearer view of the water from North Summit Street.
That gives Toledo a chance to show off its riverfront, long obscured by other development.
"It really brings the river into the downtown area and makes it much more a part of the downtown," Mr. Thomas said. "Just to be able to look out and just see that river, you really realize what we haven't been able to see for a long time."
Owners of businesses in the area are also excited. Mike Scott, who owns the restaurant 151 On The Water, which is next to the park, applauded the city for making good on its promise to improve the site. He said the steam plant project and plans to renovate the neighboring Fiberglas Tower could complement the park renovations and lead to needed improvements in that area of downtown.
"I think it's absolutely fantastic for the city. I think it's going to be an excellent draw downtown," he said. "It's the best thing that's happened to downtown Toledo since Fifth Third Field."
Jen Pazko, owner of Amiche Capelli Salon of Style in Fort Industry Square, was less enthusiastic. She said more should be done to improve buildings in the neighborhood such as hers, which she said has been neglected. "I just think there's other things that need to be done first before they start a whole new project," she said.
People walking through the area on a recent afternoon expressed optimism about the changes.
Emily Loss, 21, of West Toledo said she enjoys spending time along the downtown riverfront with her boyfriend, who works close by.
"I think downtown is so beautiful and anything we can do to make it better is a great effort," she said.
Sabrina D'Onofrio, 24, taking a break from her job at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, hoped the improvements would make downtown more attractive to visitors, businesses, and picnickers. "It'll be a nice place to come and walk around and maybe make downtown seem less threatening to people," she said. "Plus a lot of city people don't get to see parks too often, so if they can make something out of all that land, I'm all for it."
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: email@example.com or 419-724-6272.