Visions: Hebert: Park could be solution to Marina District’s riverfront riddleWritten by Staff Reports | | email@example.com
Editor’s Note: This column ran as part of an annual special section called Visions, in which Toledo Free Press asks local economic development and business leaders to share what they see ahead for Toledo and Northwest Ohio in the coming year.
The next time you’re on the East Side of Toledo, take a turn off Main Street down Riverside Drive. It’s the street that runs the length of the so-called Marina District along the Maumee River.
If you’re there in the daytime, you’ll likely find at least a dozen cars with people inside, eating lunch, talking on a cellphone or contemplating life. Oftentimes, people get out of their cars to take a stroll down to the river.
As talk grows louder about a possible repossession of this taxpayer-improved riverfront site — owned but ignored by Chinese investors — we will likely need to get serious very soon about what the city wants to do with this property. Opinions and ideas are sure to run the gamut. So here’s mine. Let it be what it is now and what it wants to be: a park.
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With minimal investment, this could become a premier park venue for Toledo. It may be a far better investment in the long term than just pouring more money and concrete into a “mixed development” project of retail and housing that may or may not be successful.
The last thing Toledo needs is another “failure.” We need positive momentum. A new riverfront city park would give us that. And it would be a much greater investment in the city’s future. Parks in general have been, with few exceptions, success stories.
Toledo’s major city parks are still just as popular as they were when they were developed 100 years ago. Even back then, park promoters and visionaries had to convince the naysayers this was money well spent and was a necessity, not a luxury.
In 1895, one of the top parks in the city was Walbridge Park along the riverfront, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. It still does. In West Toledo, in 1896, when Bancroft Street was still a dirt road, Ottawa Park was in its undeveloped infancy. It was a 280-acre acquisition that was highly controversial at the time, with critics claiming spending public money on such a large rural tract of land, far beyond the heart of the city, was a foolhardy waste of money and that no one would ever use the land for recreation.
After parks and public golf crusader Sylvanus P. Jermain was able to get a golf course built in the park, followed by ball fields and an ice rink as well as a shelter house, the park became the most popular in the city, drawing close to a million visitors a year. The voices of the naysayers were silenced and the rest, as they say, is history.
So let’s make more history. Think about giving Toledoans another park. And not just “another” park, but a “special” park. One that could become the centerpiece of a new commitment to recognize and develop our love for the greatest natural resource in the city: the Maumee River.
It could be that one signature venue that defines our city, helping to create a quality of life that makes the city more attractive in the eyes of prospective companies looking for a new home, or people looking for a great place to live. Or those Toledoans looking for reasons to stay.
Toledo has the best riverfront on the Great Lakes. We need to embrace that. We need to say it loudly every day. And we need to use our riverfront to our best advantage and not give in to those who would give this public treasure away to yet another private developer to soil with yet another a flavor-of-the-month mall concept.
So let’s start with the seeds already planted at the north end of the Marina District property: the new and popular National Museum of the Great Lakes. From those seeds it’s not an impossible stretch to think Toledo could grow and nurture a park-like setting that could easily include other museums, activities and facilities that are centered on celebrating the city’s heritage.
Whatever it is, it should be grand. We should have no quarter for little plans. We need to do something to stir our souls. Toledo needs to make a statement — a bold one to the rest of the world and to ourselves. This is our chance. This is our challenge. This waiting and vacant piece of our riverfront is our opportunity.
Email Toledo Free Press columnist Lou Hebert at firstname.lastname@example.org.