Maureen Brogan darted over broken sidewalks, past litter and the gravel that crumbles out of potholes from her sub shop on Broadway, to the barber shop just down the block.
Cars whizzed by, well above the posted speed limited, as Ms. Brogan went to the neighborhood barber shop for a quick cut before heading back to work at her business, the Original Sub Shop & Deli.
The West Toledo native invested 18 months ago in the business — which sits just north of the mouth of the Old South End — because she loved the restaurant but also because she loved the historic neighborhood bisected by Broadway.
“I have always been a fan of Broadway, the Old South End, the murals, and every one at Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center is so nice,” she said. “It is a great area of the city.”
IN PICTURES: New life for Old South End
Ms. Brogan acknowledged positive things have happened in the neighborhood the past decade to revive the Old South End — the most prominent of which are murals that portray Latino cultural themes, including the oversized faces of local and international Latino heroes like Toledo community leaders Aurora Gonzalez and Sofia Quintero and farm worker activist Cesar Chavez, Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, and painter Frida Kahlo because of the neighborhood’s large Latino population.
A plan developed quietly over the past two years and presented recently to the Toledo Plan Commission envisions a massive transformation for the neighborhood considered a stronghold of Mexican and Latino culture in the city, but which has historic Irish and German roots.
“The last time there was a neighborhood plan here was in the early 1980s,” said Paul Hollenbeck, board chairman of the Toledo Design Center, which helped develop a master plan for the group called the Broadway Corridor Coalition.
Plan addresses needs
More than 600 people were interviewed for the recently released analysis aimed at developing a plan for the triangular neighborhood bounded by I- 75 on the north, the Anthony Wayne Trail, and the Maumee River.
The process revealed challenges people who live and work along Broadway have known for years: There are too many empty buildings; poverty and unemployment are higher there compared to elsewhere in Toledo; there is little emphasis on aesthetics along Broadway leading into downtown; and much of the zoning is incorrect.
The study found fewer than 7,500 people live there. In the heart of the neighborhood, 14.7 percent are unemployed, 43.6 percent live in poverty, and 61.4 percent do not have a high school diploma.
The housing stock is decent, but it is hard to miss the vacant and deteriorating homes on the streets branching off from Broadway.
“One of the unique things about the Old South End is they have three miles of riverfront but there is not one place you can get to the river, so the plan tries to look at some possibilities,” Mr. Hollenbeck said.
The plan identified five major needs for the area, he said.
“We need to promote a more full range of family-oriented services along Broadway [and] we need to protect the housing stock and see this as a multi-generational neighborhood of affordability for working-class families,” Mr. Hollenbeck said. “We really think it is positioned strategically between downtown — which is really being transformed — and the zoo, which is going through a huge metamorphosis trying to become more of a regional destination for people to spend the weekend there.”
The $7,500 study was funded by the Historic South Initiative, a 2½-year-old group created to advocate for the area and promote development.
Positive steps taken
There will be tangible proof of Broadway’s resurgence this year, said Chris Amato, Historic South president.
A national chain pizza retailer will open on the street. Installation of modern LED lighting has been proposed. And the former South Branch library building on Broadway — empty now — will soon get new life.
The building, vacated when the library moved to a new building nearby more than a decade ago, will be home to a medical clinic and the Nueva Esperanza Community Credit Union in the spring or summer. The renovation project is funded by $300,000 from the state capital budget and support from ProMedica, which obtained the building from the Lucas County Land Bank. It is a collaboration among ProMedica, Compassion Health Toledo, the credit union, and Historic South.
Historic South has also worked with Marshall Elementary School and the two Catholic schools in the Old South End in an effort to improve academics.
“We have to make sure all the children in the neighborhood are succeeding and the high school graduation rate is improved,” Mr. Amato said. “This is a 20 or 25-year project because we are here for the long haul.”
The group also purchased three homes on Crittenden Avenue, which are being renovated and will be sold to credit-worthy people who must pledge to live in them for at least five years, he said.
That initiative is not about making money for the group.
“One home will need about $50,000 or $60,000 in work and we will sell it for $30,000,” Mr. Amato said. “We will take that loss because we are here for the long haul.”
The city of Toledo and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority are working on using energy-saving LED bulbs to relight some city streets, and advocates for the Old South End want it started in that area.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s Homies Union, a Toledo youth leadership program involved with the Historic South Initiative, was first to push for LED lighting and asked the port authority for $35,000 to modernize street lighting along Broadway and adjoining cross-streets from the I-75 overpass to Danny Thomas Park.
Phil Barbosa, who moved 15 years ago into a renovated former bank building on Broadway to be closer to work downtown, said the high number of rentals versus owner-occupied homes has been a problem for years.
“We could use stores other than carry-outs … and the crime deters people from coming and staying,” he said.
Mr. Barbosa said improving the neighborhood would help push out “some of the riff-raff.”
“There has to be independent investment there,” he said. “Government is nice, but if we can get independent investment and people to renovate the houses up to code, that will fix a problem.”
The Old South End has just five entry points — the north and south ends of Broadway, two crossings over the Anthony Wayne Trail, and South Avenue under I-75.
The plan calls for creating “gateways” to the neighborhood at those intersections, which could include arches, green space, or public art.
It also calls for the city to reconstruct much of Broadway as a “complete street to calm traffic with an emphasis on pedestrian accessibility” and “create popular outdoor places and enhance pedestrian connections within and to the center.”
That center would be known as a “zócalo,” which translates to a public square or plaza. The term is common for the center of a city or town in Mexico.
That town square could be on Broadway just south of Western Avenue near the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee office, the plan shows.
Ms. Brogan said she loved all of the ideas offered by the plan, but chortled when she was told there is no funding for any of the endeavors.
Baldemar Velasquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee president, also lauded the plan, but identified problems in the neighborhood he said could mar the initiatives.
“You have some property owners who may not be as cooperative as we would like them to be,” Mr. Velasquez said. “We are all for a zócalo, which has a Mexican flair. When FLOC bought this building on Broadway, there was nothing there 12 years ago and now, FLOC and Sofia Quintero have become the anchor of the neighborhood.”
It’s sometimes tough in the Old South End for young people, Mr. Velasquez said, and that has to change.
“The number one problem is the relationship with police,” he said. “Young people feel they are targeted and profiled, and I hear that every day, so if they see the police, they go the other way. We had a youth meeting not long ago at FLOC and the police came in and took four kids in a raid-like style that was totally uncalled for.”
Mr. Velasquez said the LED lighting is critical to improving the neighborhood, and would complement the other plans for the Old South End.
“We want to do something about those neglected neighborhoods,” he said “That LED lighting would go a long way to deter crime and the nasty things that can happen.”