Pounds: Let it growWritten by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | email@example.com
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who opposes ProMedica’s plan to move its headquarters Downtown. But the health care system’s proposed parking garage at Promenade Park is another case altogether.
The debate heated up Jan. 6 as vocal opponents and equally vocal supporters got the chance to speak before a City Council committee meeting. The conversation will continue at 1 p.m. Jan. 14 as Council is set to hear more from ProMedica. A vote could come as early as Jan. 20. ProMedica, which is asking the city for free park land as well as various tax abatements, estimates the move will bring 1,000 employees, 100 of them new hires and 600 of them new to Toledo. Robin Whitney, ProMedica’s vice president of property acquisition and development, told Council that ProMedica has done its homework and feels Promenade Park is the best option for the proposed six-story structure. Safety and convenience were among the reasons cited. Alternate plans have been offered, but the garage can’t go more than one level underground at the park because of the Maumee River water table, she said, and existing Downtown parking garages are already too full to absorb all the new employees. Even if they could, consuming so much Downtown parking could impact potential future development at other riverfront locations, warned Cindy Kerr of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District. ProMedica’s proposal calls for taking 14 percent of Promenade Park for the garage, leaving the rest as public green space. Plans also include potential retail space on the front of the garage and outdoor seating areas overlooking the park, and I was pleased to learn the garage would be open to the public on nights and weekends. Green space is important, but Promenade Park has been underutilized for years. I live Downtown and enjoy the park, but it seems to me we’d be trading a little green space for a lot more amenities and a lot more land use. Last year, the park was closed January to June for construction, but in the last half of the year, the city issued 11 permits for a total of 23 days of event use, according to spokeswoman Stacy Weber. Another alternate suggestion is to build a new garage on a Port Authority-owned lot near Vistula garage and have employees utilize the underground walkway between Vistula and the KeyBank building, a five-to-seven-minute walk. One issue there is that access to parts of the walkway is cut off when buildings are closed. Imagination Station, at the middle of the walkway, is closed on Mondays and closes at 5 p.m. the rest of the week. Not very compatible with a typical work week. Yes, walking is healthy. But the appeal of a centralized campus is also understandable. What about older or disabled employees? What about visitors? People new to Downtown are often intimidated by parking. Will they be expected to navigate unfamiliar tunnels to attend a meeting? On Jan. 6, speakers from both sides pleaded with Council not to sacrifice the city’s long-term vitality with a short-sighted decision. The trick will be agreeing on what will ensure that long-term viability both sides want. There are still questions to be answered; in particular, we need a clearer estimate of how much the project will cost the city. But here is an entity with money, motivation and a plan. Let them grow. “What’s missing from Downtown is not open space. What’s missing from Downtown is investment,” commercial developer Steve Serchuk told Council. We can have ProMedica and still keep Promenade Park. ProMedica’s plan already offers that. Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.