Ceremony at Middlegrounds points to inspired future for riverfrontWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Along the western bank of the Maumee River, not far from the base of the Anthony Wayne Bridge, Phil Ziemke and his wife Linda watched a small boat of rowers glide past. Birds chirped as they pointed to a view of the Downtown skyline.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? We always looked at it while boating and thought it would be a great place for a park,” Phil said.
The Maumee couple are members of the Rotary Club of Toledo, which hosted a private gathering May 3 at the future site of Middlegrounds Metropark to officially announce a donation of $300,000 to Metroparks of the Toledo Area. The donation, in honor of the club’s 100th anniversary, will fund the building of a pavilion at the site.
“It’s incredible,” added the Ziemkes’ son, David, of Sylvania, who said he has waterskied past the spot. “Definitely the best views of Toledo.”
The 28-acre park is the third urban park within Toledo city limits and the first Downtown. Located between the Maumee River and Ottawa Street, it will stretch the half mile from the Anthony Wayne Bridge, aka the High Level Bridge, to a Norfolk Southern rail yard. Most of Toledo’s bridges can be viewed from the property as well as East Side neighborhoods across the river.
About 150 people toured the site and heard from club and community leaders, including Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and Rep. Marcy Kaptur.
Other speakers included club president Gary McBride, club district governor Helyn Bolanis, club president-elect Tom Backoff, Toledo Rotary Foundation Vice-Chair Larry Howe and Metroparks Board President Scott Savage.
Farther down the shore, at the site of a proposed observation platform, Rotary Club member Joe Tafelski of Toledo listened as a Metroparks employee described plans for the site.
“I’ve seen sketches, but when you get on site you can really see the potential and how great it can be,” Tafelski said. “Most people have never seen this view. This is going to be great.”
No date has been set for an official groundbreaking, said Metroparks Executive Director Steve Madewell. How fast the park takes shape and exactly what will be built depends on funding, but the first phase of construction, including the Rotary Club’s pavilion, is slated for completion by 2015, following a major renovation to the adjacent Anthony Wayne Bridge.
“I don’t know how many people have asked me, ‘Isn’t this a little different for a Metropark to have a park in an urban setting?’” Madewell said. “Conservation isn’t just about the hinterlands and the rural areas; conservation plays an important role here in the city as well, so we’re delighted to be here.”
The pavilion, featuring grills, tables, benches and restrooms, will be the park’s signature piece of infrastructure, said Metroparks Superintendent Dave Zenk. Other Phase I elements include a central pier with an overlook and fishing areas, outdoor event spaces, playground, recreation trails, interpretive elements and a parking lot. Wetlands and fish-rearing habitats have been proposed for future phases.
Leadership from the Metroparks and the City of Toledo said the Rotary Club’s announcement is helping fuel and sustain a sense of energy and momentum surrounding the Downtown riverfront area.
In March, Mayor Bell received approval from Toledo City Council to borrow $2.2 million to renovate nearby Promenade Park. In April, developers announced plans to transform the old Toledo Edison Steam Plant into Water Street Station, a $16 million complex that will include a YMCA, a University of Toledo Medical Center clinic and 67 apartments.
Bell called Middlegrounds “the perfect jewel” to round out the corridor’s developments.
“We’ve got so many people moving into our Downtown area. This offers a quality-of-life destination point for them,” Bell said. “It’s going to be exciting for all Toledoans. This is just a beautiful location and this is a great day for Toledo.”
The Metroparks acquired the Middlegrounds property from the Sam Geraldo Trust in 2006 for $1.25 million with grant funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program. Shortly afterward, more than 8,000 pounds of surface debris was cleared from the property, which was previously used as a granary, railroad yard and dumping ground for building material. The soil was tested and found to be safe, Zenk said.
Construction has been delayed due to the timing of other construction projects as well as funding shortages. Funding for the park is expected to come from two levies, grants, federal and state funds and other philanthropic donations, Madewell said.
Madewell said the Metroparks are excited to be a part of Downtown’s development and have been meeting with all the key players as well as organizations like the Arts Commission.
“The more folks we can get to play a role and support seeing this move forward is going to just make it a richer experience,” Madewell said. “The city is pumped up, the YMCA is pumped up, everyone is pumped up. It’s an exciting time.”
Rotary Club member Jillian Lepiarz of Haskins said she is happy to help support the vision of community leaders in developing the space.
“It’s just amazing the steps they are taking to make Toledo a destination, a place to really come and visit and stay and live and this is a huge step toward that,” Lepiarz said.