City Council approves purchase of Southwyck for $3.25MWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Within 30 days, the former Southwyck mall property will have a new owner, either the City of Toledo or a developer the city is hoping to find for the site.
By a 7-5 vote, Toledo City Council approved the purchase of the 58.8-acre site for $3.25 million at its Nov. 18 meeting. Council members Mike Craig, Jack Ford, Theresa Gabriel, Tyrone Riley and Tom Waniewski cast the dissenting votes.
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said the city will purchase the site at the end of 30 days unless another buyer can be found.
“It’s not my thought that we are going to hang onto this property. It’s not my thought we are going to give this property away. It is my thought we are going to find a development,” Collins said.
The Andersons was among those considering the site, but the Maumee-based company announced Nov. 14 it would build its new headquarters in Monclova Township instead.
“Our focus was realistically on The Andersons up until Friday (Nov. 14),” Collins said. “I thought we had prepared for them a very viable opportunity that would have rewarded both The Andersons corporation and the City of Toledo. However, I have the utmost respect for the decision The Andersons made and we will be moving forward with alternative plans.
“In the next 30 days, we’re going to be aggressively moving on this property,” Collins said. “I fully intend on having our economic development department and director [Matt] Sapara to move aggressively to try to find an end user before the additional 30 days expire.”
Due to the proximity to shopping centers like Levis Commons and Fallen Timbers, retail is unlikely, Collins said, but there has been interest in the site for a research and development center for pharmaceutical companies, a medical facility or medical offices or a corporate campus. The property is also listed on a national search list.
“Those are all ideas not generated by the administration, but generated by people talking to us about [the site],” Collins said. “Those ideas are percolating out there now.”
Collins said it would be fair to say the city has three serious considerations for the site, but declined to elaborate.
“One is a joint situation, [where] if A moves, B moves,” Collins said. “I can’t say much more about it aside from that or I’d be shirking my duties in terms of confidentiality.”
The purchase price is based on a per acre cost of $51,290, which is discounted from the original listing price of $72,900.
Collins said when the current owners were approached — anonymously — with the city’s offer to option the property, they took more than four months to come to terms.
“If that is a true indicator of a business mentality, you can see the stifling effect,” Collins said. “I don’t think the market has the patience to go through that type of a negotiation.”
Councilwoman Sandy Spang, a South Toledo resident and business owner, said she voted yes to the purchase because she believes city control of the property offers the best chance for quality development.
“It was a difficult decision for me,” Spang said. “I am normally in favor of letting the market determine these things, but I was not confident the owners of the property would consider the community’s interest.”
One fear was the current owners would sell off frontage along Reynolds Road, jeopardizing the ability to develop the rest of the site.
“In order to do aggressive economic development, you have to have large pieces of land to offer entities that are going to bring jobs in,” Spang said. “So there are times when it is prudent to control a piece of property so you can keep it together for a full development.”
Councilwoman Lindsay Webb agreed.
“As a district council person who represents the area where [the former] North Towne [Mall] is, I am familiar with how owners of malls can operate in conjunction to stifle development,” Webb said. “[Southwyck's owners] did not see eye to eye as to the direction of this site so I think its in the city’s best interest to take control of the site so that the site can be set free for future development.
However, several Council members, including Waniewski, said they voted no because they felt the city was taking too much of a gamble.
“To me, purchasing land is a fine line between economic development and economic gambling,” Waniewski said. “I think in light of The Andersons pulling out as a possible suitor for that property, we would be taking a gamble.”
Waniewski said he isn’t confident the city will find a buyer within a year, much less 30 days. The ordinance stipulates the city has a year to defer making payments on the property
“I hope I’m wrong, but I think that’s a huge gamble with a lot of taxpayer money,” Waniewski said. “That’s not money I want to spend. If someone is interested in that property, the free market will dictate that and then we can still play a role in that. We can still come in and work with the current owners and that’s the approach I favor: Wait till someone shows a strong interest and the city can come in and facilitate that and it doesn’t cost us anything in between.”
Riley said he voted against the purchase because he felt the money could be better spent on roads and other infrastructure projects.
“To use capital improvement dollars on this project when you don’t have an end user or developer on board to develop the site I think is not a prudent decision,” Riley said. “We don’t know exactly when we’re going to have a developer on board or if we’re going to have a developer on board and we’ve tied up $3.2 million of capital improvement funds when we could be using that money to repair and repave roads and rebuild and strengthen our infrastructure.”
Ford said he voted no because he feels the city is already over-committed in projects.
“I felt it was too much money with no purchaser in sight,” Ford said. “It wasn’t quite the time to do that. I think ultimately, either now or later, we’re going to have to do that, but we seem to have so many financial obligations lining up that I just don’t know where the money’s coming from. … I think we need to slow down our obligations and get a few more things done and then take it back up.”
Craig said he voted against the purchase because he believes Council should concentrate on funding neighborhoods.
“Economic development should not be swinging for the fences every time and striking out eight to nine times out of 10. We should be hitting singles and doubles,” Craig said. “Until we start making neighborhoods a better place to live, we’re going to keep losing [population]. That’s what we need to fund — we need to fund neighborhood economic development. That’s one of my priorities.”
However, Collins said he considers investing in Southwyck to be an investment into the neighborhood and said the purchase is meant to stabilize the neighborhood.
“This particular piece of property, when that corridor of our city was bustling and vibrant, it was all based around Southwyck,” Collins said, pointing to other key investment in the area including Clarion Hotel site, Genesis Village, Maumee Valley Country Day School and more.
“We’ve got some major keystones in that whole equation and once we get Southwyck under a development profile that makes sense I think the dominoes will continue to fall and you will see all businesses, such as restaurants, office spaces, that type of thing come in, which will stabilize the neighborhood,” Collins said.
Spang said economic development can be a “long road” but thinks it will pay off in this case.
“The things that were attractive about it when it was chosen as a site for the mall, still remain attractive about that property: proximity to the turnpike, proximity to the expressway, number of rooftops surrounding it,” Spang said. “There are some strong anchors there on Reynolds Road and we need to see that as the prime piece of property it is.
“This is an attractive site — it’s got great infrastructure around it, it’s well situated and I’m hopeful it will find a use that will create jobs,” she said. “If we bring jobs to Toledo, every part of Toledo wins.”