Jackson: ‘The mindset of Toledo has to change’Written by Matt Zapotosky | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“We’re 10 years behind Columbus, 10 years behind Cleveland, probably about five to six years behind Akron … the mindset of Toledo has to change.”
NBA star and prominent local businessman Jim Jackson said Friday that Toledo is a “Class C” city that needs to adjust its attitude toward development projects.
“We’re 10 years behind Columbus, 10 years behind Cleveland, probably about five to six years behind Akron,” Jackson said. “Here in Toledo … whenever something is proposed or whenever somebody wants to do something that could be positive for the city, you always have people that the first thing they say is ‘Well, you can’t do it’ … The mindset of Toledo has to change.”
Though he would not name any specific deals, Jackson said some of his developer friends have shied away from starting projects in Toledo because of the negative attitudes of city politicians.
“I know a few developers from out of town who’ve tried to do some deals here, and they say it’s extremely difficult because of the cynicism and the negativity that surrounds trying to do projects here,” he said. “You have people who vote on these projects who don’t understand development. They understand politics, but development is totally different.”
Jackson, a Toledo native, has spent a significant amount of money on development projects in his hometown. Jackson owns the Car Spa, 1841 Dorr St., Jackson’s Lounge and Grill, 233 N. Huron St., and he is a partner on the $19 million Downtown steam plant renovation project.
For Jackson, Toledo’s economic climate makes it appealing for development projects.
“A lot of my friends who are in the business ask me, ‘Why Toledo? There’s nothing there. The population is declining,’ ” Jackson said. “But I say it’s a Catch-22. Because there is nothing here, you have an opportunity to introduce some great things because there is a void in the market on certain things.”
Jackson said he wants to fill these voids, not only for personal benefit, but for the benefit of his hometown.
Jackson developed the Car Spa in his old neighborhood near Dorr Street and Upton Avenue so residents would not have to take their cars to the suburbs for maintenance work and detailing.
“That was done because it was in my neighborhood where I grew up; I thought it was a need,” Jackson said. “People inside the neighborhood would always go out to get their car serviced, to buy a car, to rent a car.”
The restaurant had similar, personal motives: Jackson developed that facility based on the advice of his father.
“(My father) always loved the restaurant-bar atmosphere with music, so I thought it would be neat to bring something to the city that served a great meal but also had a great atmosphere and had live music,” Jackson said.
Twenty Jim Jacksons
No matter what the project, city developers and politicians said Jackson is a positive force in Toledo.
“I wish I had 20 Jim Jacksons investing in Downtown Toledo and our neighborhoods,” Toledo Mayor Jack Ford said. “With his income and stature, he could’ve lived anywhere in the country, but he chose to come home … I think he’s demonstrated a strong commitment to his hometown, not just through his investments, which he could’ve done anywhere, but through his volunteer work with the kids.”
Ford even partially agreed with Jackson’s assessment of Toledo’s business climate. Ford said Jackson convinced him businessmen — not politicians — need to be in charge of making the decisions on development projects, and this was the catalyst for Ford’s attempt to merge the county and city economic development departments.
Pete Gozza, founder of Downtown Toledo, Inc., said Jackson and a couple other developers helped start development Downtown by making purchases when nobody else was developing the area.
“They were the ones that came in and bought things when no one was investing,” Gozza said.
But Jackson is not without his critics, especially on the most recent steam plant renovation project.
When Jackson’s proposal for the steam plant was accepted in August 2004, many argued a different plan proposed by Rod Kagy of KG&R Development was superior. Kagy said at the time that he did not need the $300,000 the city was offering to developers willing to start the project. Jackson’s group, Water Street Development Co., LLC, a partnership between Jackson and developer David Ball, accepted that money.
Jackson said his proposal — which includes plans to build 111 apartment and condominium units at the Maumee River steam plan site Downtown — was not only the best one, but it was the only one turned in by the Aug. 16 deadline.
“At the end of it, when our timetable was up, our deadline was due, our proposal was in,” Jackson said. “Kagy and his group came in after the deadline.”
Mayor Ford agreed that Jackson’s proposal was the best one turned in by deadline and dismissed the idea that he accepted Jackson’s proposal because Jackson is his friend. Ford said he talks to Jackson about three times a year concerning business developments in other cities. He has been to Jackson’s home once and he went to Jackson’s wedding. But he does not regularly socialize with the NBA star.
“I actually wish I did get preferential treatment from Jim because maybe I’d get tickets to basketball games … and things like that,” Ford said.
Jackson said he does not receive preferential treatment from Ford.
“People say that he’s giving me favors,” Jackson said. “I don’t see it, if that’s the case. What I’ve done is pretty much follow the rules and guidelines like everybody else. I don’t want anything given. I think what I’m bringing to the table is the best product. If it don’t stand on that, then I don’t want to do it.”
Kagy did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
SUBHEAD: Distant relationship
Though Jackson travels frequently as an NBA player with the Phoenix Suns, he said he stays updated on his Toledo businesses and his five restaurants in Dallas “day-to-day.”
“I have weekly conference calls and staff meetings on all our projects,” Jackson said. “I’m probably on the phone every day in regards to especially development that’s just starting. Constantly through e-mails or over the phone, I may not be able to reach out and touch it, but I have a pulse and I know what’s going on.”
Jackson’s operations manager, Willie Williams, serves as Jackson’s eyes and ears in Toledo when Jackson is away with the Suns. Jackson met Williams when they competed against each other in basketball at rival elementary schools, and Jackson promised Williams that he would be his business manager some day.
“He told me when we were back in college, ‘Once I get everything together, I’m going to come and get you to help me run some of my companies,’ and he kept true to his word,” Williams said. “At that time, I thought it was just talk.”
Williams helps Jackson review sites for development and serves as the day-to-day operations manger of Jackson’s restaurant. On the steam plant development, Williams makes sure Jackson’s ideas are carried out when Jackson cannot physically be in Toledo.
“I’m in the back making sure that Jimmy’s input and his vision are still being implemented when he’s away playing with his other job,” Williams said.
Williams and Jackson said they have a few ideas for future developments, but they’re not ready to release the details. Right now, Williams said, the pair is concerned with getting the steam plant project completed.
“Once the steam plant is up, that’s going to show people we are serious about development, we are serious about developing Downtown, and that will give us the opportunity to develop other properties,” he said.
But for Downtown to truly blossom, Jackson said, the business climate in Toledo has to change. Jackson said to enact this change, politicians have to develop a better understanding of development.
“I don’t think a lot of people have the foresight on how to develop the core, especially Downtown, to help bring in business,” Jackson said. “The first thing people want to say is ‘Well, Downtown, we need shopping, we need retail,’ but to do that, you got to have people. Without people, retail doesn’t work. Commercial sale doesn’t work. You have to start at your basic, ground level and get market rate housing Downtown first, and then you bring in other stuff.”
For Jackson, that process begins when Toledoans become more open to change.
“People here are used to a certain thing, and they don’t like change, they’re scared of change,” Jackson said. “They want it, but they don’t know how to accept it. And if you want to grow as a city, you have to kind of let some of those things go and build from anew. And until we get that on a consistent effort, we’re still going to be a Class C city. And if you want to get to a Class B city, you have to know how to accept change and understand what change can do.”