Most Toledoans likely share the frustration that Mayor D. Michael Collins expresses about the continued lack of development of the Marina District. It’s been three years since investors paid the city $3.8 million for a 69-acre site along East Toledo’s riverfront, dropping tantalizing hints about a $300 million project that would include residential, retail, office, and entertainment space. Yet the land remains essentially vacant.
There isn’t much the city can do at the moment, because the Chinese investment firm that owns the property, Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., still has as much as two years to show “substantial” development of the property or sell it back at the price it paid. Until then, the Collins administration and Dashing Pacific need to communicate better.
In a meeting last week with Blade editors and reporters, Mayor Collins complained that Dashing Pacific’s principals have yet to meet with him to discuss their plans, even though he has been in office for six months. That’s hardly surprising: The company has avoided any semblance of transparency since it cut its Marina District deal with former mayor Mike Bell, and Mr. Collins’ predecessor was content to acquiesce in that secrecy.
Mayor Collins told East Toledo residents last week that he would entertain offers from other developers for the Marina District unless Dashing Pacific displays adequate progress by this fall. He told The Blade that local private-sector unions remain interested in taking part in development efforts. Yet the city has not set aside money to repurchase the property, if it comes to that.
Mr. Collins’ dissatisfaction with Dashing Pacific’s failure to perform is understandable. Yet his public prediction that the company “is not going to build anything on that property” risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Toledo continues to recover slowly from the Great Recession, hampering its redevelopment prospects. China’s economy has cooled in recent years as well.
It’s to be hoped that Mayor Collins’ public pronouncements will encourage Dashing Pacific to stop stonewalling Toledo’s elected officials and taxpayers. But Toledoans also must remember that the Marina District site was moribund for years before its current owner came along, despite local investors’ efforts to develop the property. Political efforts to dictate whom the company must employ as contractors and workers haven’t promoted the property’s development.
The fact that Dashing Pacific is paying taxes on the Marina District property and has not asked the city for tax breaks or other incentives does not excuse its lack of action. Taxpayers were assessed $43 million to cleanse the site of industrial pollution and upgrade its infrastructure for development. They deserve a return on that involuntary investment.
Development of the Marina District still offers the prospect of economic growth and job creation to a city that needs both. The city’s cleanup of the site of the former Acme power plant in the district, including the demolition of two smokestacks, is an appropriate display of the administration’s commitment.
Dashing Pacific owes it to Toledo — to the mayor and its citizens — to clarify its intentions. But if the company maintains its silence and inaction on the Marina District, the city may have no better option than to mark off days on the calendar for the next year or two, and resolve to make a better deal for the land next time.
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