Debate heats up over ProMedica’s plans for parkWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Conversation surrounding ProMedica’s controversial plan to build a parking garage on public park space Downtown is intensifying as Toledo City Council prepares to decide if it will allow the project to move forward.
Area residents and local community leaders filled Council chambers Jan. 6 to hear and discuss the health care company’s plan to build the structure in Promenade Park on Summit Street.
Robin Whitney, vice president of property acquisition and development at ProMedica, gave a presentation to Council’s Youth, Parks, Recreation, Community Relations and Education committee centering on the company’s plan to build a six-story parking structure in the southwest corner of the park. The structure — which would occupy 14 percent of the park’s surface area and 120 feet of the park’s 500 feet of frontage along Summit Street — is a key part of ProMedica’s $40 million plan to move up to 1,000 employees into the former Toledo Edison Steam Plant and KeyBank building Downtown. Since the meeting Jan. 6, ProMedica officials have stated future phases could bring as many as 2,500 employees Downtown.
A group of protesters gathered outside One Government Center prior to the meeting to express opposition to ProMedica’s plan to build the structure at the park.
Dave Shugar of Maumee held a sign reading “Don’t Park on our Park.”
“This is our heritage, this is our town,” he said. “If we don’t protect it now, it’s lost forever. … If the [proposed parking garage] is a deal breaker for them, they’re not negotiating in good faith with the Toledo community, they’re not being fair to us.”
In her presentation to Council, Whitney said, “We believe that this campus we’re talking about in Downtown Toledo is going to be a wonderful addition to our community. It’s going to be truly transformative — not only to what we think we can do for Downtown and the community, but for ProMedica as well.”
The plan will take administrative employees from 17 different locations — largely suburban — and put them Downtown.
Whitney said the location of the parking garage is important for matters of proximity and safety of employees and visitors.
“We looked at some other suburban opportunities — and there are benefits to that — but we really think that the community revitalization component of coming Downtown really puts this over the top as our best solution,” she said.
Following Whitney’s presentation, Council members had the opportunity to ask questions and make statements about the plan.
“I’m so excited about the opportunity this presents for our city, I can barely contain myself,” said Councilwoman Lindsay Webb. “This is the largest revitalization this city has seen in certainly the last decade, maybe two, and maybe my lifetime.”
Webb said she understands ProMedica’s concern for employees’ safety.
“We have a long way to go in terms of perception related to safety in Downtown Toledo,” she said, noting a recent walk she took to an event at the Valentine Theatre.
“I had my two young sons with me, and I did not feel safe — I did not feel safe. That’s a reality,” she said.
Webb said that people not feeling safe Downtown will diminish the odds of them returning and spending more money or moving their business there.
“It is a concern, and I don’t want to dance around it,” she said.
Members of the public were then given a chance to voice their opinion on the matter, with a majority saying they are in favor of ProMedica moving its headquarters Downtown but are opposed to building the garage at the park.
Elenore Weber moved back to Toledo a year ago after living in New York City for 30 years. She lives Downtown and said she has never felt unsafe there.
“Promenade Park is my front yard and it’s my backyard,” she said. “We use Promenade Park for exercising, for relaxing, reading, listening to the birds and especially taking in the beautiful view of the Maumee River. … Downtown Toledo looks like a giant parking lot already — it really does. The last thing we need is to have another parking lot.”
Wendy Gramza, president of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of ProMedica’s plan.
“As you know, ProMedica is proposing to make a $40 million investment in Toledo by moving their corporate headquarters with about 1,000 jobs to Downtown Toledo, with more than half of these employees being new to the city of Toledo. It kind of seems like I should be able to just stop there, but I won’t. … It’s important to remember that these numbers do not include the strong likelihood that other companies, shops and restaurants will come Downtown to support these new employees.”
Bill Thomas, president of the Downtown Toledo Development Corporation, said suggestions to use other parking garages or build one near other buildings are not considering the long-term success of Downtown.
“If you go to the lot behind Fort Industry Square (south of Promenade Park), if we put up a really big parking structure there, we would lose the ability to be able to redevelop that space. That’s great space, prime for redevelopment.
In an interview with Toledo Free Press prior to the meeting, Thomas called ProMedica’s proposal “a beautiful plan.” Turning down ProMedica’s offer to spend money on developing the park would be shortsighted, he said.
“We need infrastructure put in Promenade Park. We’ve waited 35 years for infrastructure at Promenade Park — we can’t even keep pools open. There’s no chance the city is going to develop Promenade Park the way we need it,” Thomas said. “People say, ‘Well, you just go walk.’ Well, the problem is that our competition is the suburbs, and in the suburbs parking is right next door,” he said.
After the meeting, Whitney stopped short of calling the proposed parking garage at Promenade Park a “deal breaker” to moving Downtown but firmly stated the company feels it is by far the best option.
“I think we’re very clear and unwavering that we need safe, convenient parking. So far, this is the only solution that we have found that fits our needs. … There are ideas, but the ability to really do those and not jeopardize something else or even just get site control, I haven’t found any solutions that meets all those needs. At this point, we’re pretty focused on this solution being the right one. I think we’ve explored all the options that were addressed or brought up today,” she said.
Council will further discuss ProMedica’s plan to move Downtown at 1 p.m. Jan. 14 in its chambers at One Government Center.