Collins took on big projects in little timeWritten by Tom Konecny | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As much as the late Mayor D. Michael Collins was forced to face important issues in a reactive manner during his 13 months in office, he will also be remembered for his strong, proactive approach to managing the city.
Collins, 70, died Feb. 6, five days after going in cardiac arrest while driving in South Toledo. He’d been in critical condition at the University of Toledo Medical Center since Feb. 1. Toledo City Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson was sworn in as acting mayor on Feb. 1. With his death, she becomes interim mayor until a general election is held in November.
Collins dealt head-on with major issues surrounding several landmarks and institutions, aggressively tackling many key projects during his one year in office. With many of them yet incomplete, it now falls upon his successors and staff to see they come to fruition.
ProMedica to move Downtown, but not without controversy
Just one month after Collins took office in January 2014, ProMedica announced it planned to move its administrative employees to Downtown and occupy the former Toledo Edison Steam Plant, the KeyBank building, as well as incorporate a new multi-level parking garage to be built on a section of adjacent Promenade Park.
The plan was lauded by Collins and other civic leaders, but the parking garage was met with controversy, as some were opposed to the loss of green space along the Maumee River. City Council ultimately approved the plans on Jan. 20, and ProMedica intends to start construction this fall and finish in 2017.
Buying Southwyck, then marketing it
After six years of looking at a vacant 58 acres where the once-bustling Southwyck Mall stood in South Toledo along Reynolds Road, and seeing no real serious attempts at development, Collins and his economic development team took matters into their own hands.
In July they began the process of purchasing the barren land, and in November it was City Council who made the $3.25 million purchase complete. There has been no formal announcement as to possible tenants or land development.
During its 120-day due diligence period, Matt Sapara, economic development director, said the City was “marketing the heck out of it.”
Jeep scare heard ‘round Toledo
When Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne made his Oct. 2 comments to reporters at the Paris Auto Show that, “Toledo is the wrong place” to build a possible reconfigured aluminum body Jeep Wrangler, Collins was again thrust into the national spotlight — much like the August water crisis in which the region was issued a do-not-drink water advisory due to possible contamination from a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie.
Collins, UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower and other city leaders immediately requested a meeting with Marchionne about the fate of Jeep. Along with Sapara and City Council, Collins was instrumental in the city’s approval of a $738,000 purchase of 28.8 acres near Jeep’s Toledo Assembly Complex, with the aim of giving the region its best shot of keeping Wrangler production in Toledo.
Three smokestacks demolished
Three smokestacks at the former Toledo Edison Acme power plant in East Toledo were demolished in hopes of improving the East Toledo location for a future developer.
After two shorter stacks at the site were imploded in July, the city planned to shorten the remaining stack to about 100 feet. However, the August implosion left the 297-foot stack around 75 feet instead, including its 48-foot concrete base, making it look a little “stubby,” city officials acknowledged.
The city, with input from other groups including the Marina District Architectural Review Committee and the nearby National Museum of the Great Lakes, considered leaving the stack as it was, tearing it down or turning it into a lighthouse motif as favored by Collins. In the end, it was decided to tear it down. The shortened third stack was removed in January.
In November, Collins unveiled his city budget, which he considered an exercise in balancing needs versus wants. His proposed $245.8 million operating budget still awaits city Council approval, with a requirement to be passed as balanced by March 31.
“We remain confident with our dedicated workforce that this budget is one that is realistic and attainable,” Collins said in a prepared statement in November. “We will face some difficult decisions as it relates to our limited resources but I believe that a continued focus on public safety and other core services will best serve our community.”
Among its highlights are new police and fire classes for 2015.
At the time, Collins also anticipated a slight increase in revenue, from an anticipated $245.3 million in 2014 to $245.8 million in 2015. The higher revenue relies on increased collection efforts of past due income tax, and red light camera fines.
“Despite some of the challenges we face, our future still remains bright with a number of projects expected to take form in 2015 and 2016,” he said in November.
Erie Street Market
In what turned out to be one of Collins’ last major moves, the Erie Street Market was put up for sale by the City on Jan. 23, when it issued formal request for proposals seeking interested parties.
The Erie Street Market is located in the Warehouse District, immediately south of Downtown, whose area has seen significant growth particularly since the arrival of Fifth Third Field in 2002.
Its latest reincarnation in 1997, turned the building into a retail center with a food, craft and antique market, all anchored by the still present Libbey Glass Factory Outlet. By 2012, all retail ventures were gone and the halls were closed.
Interested groups have until Feb. 13 to submit proposals. So far, Sustainable Local Foods has placed the only bid. The hydroponic growing company currently leases space at Erie Street Market from the city.
“The big thing we want to do is get it back into the condition that everyone wants to see it,” said Jim Bloom, business developer for Sustainable Local Foods. “We’re very interested in helping to enhance the Farmer’s Market and help to solidify their future. We’re very supportive of a grocery store, but we think it potentially needs to be fixed up to attract things down here. The city wants to see this as well. I always wanted to have Sustainable in the antiques mall, so we can help it become an agri-tourism area. We didn’t want to turn this into a growing site. Our interest is actually in the long term viability for the community. I’d like to see it today as a mainstay in the food related industry. From our perspective, it wasn’t our intention to turn it into an indoor farm. We’d like to have one section where we’re growing, for people and kids to come in and see how food is grown. But ultimately the best use is to attract grocery stores and like-minded businesses down here.”
A few other bidders have expressed interest, city development director Matt Sapara said Feb. 5, but no other bids have yet been filed.