City gives ProMedica green light on Downtown planWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
ProMedica got the green light it sought from Toledo City Council on Jan. 20.
After briefly considering three possible amendments, all of which were tabled for future discussion, Council voted 11-1 in favor of a memorandum of understanding, approving the health care company’s plan to move its headquarters to the former Toledo Edison Steam Plant and KeyBank building on Summit Street and build a garage at Promenade Park.
Proponents, including Downtown business owners and developers, were thrilled. Opponents, including green space advocates, were disappointed but largely resigned. However, some haven’t given up the fight.
Councilman Jack Ford cast the lone “no” vote, indicating he wanted clearer answers regarding the likelihood of getting minority inclusion and restoration provisions added to the agreement before he would be comfortable supporting the project.
RELATED: Read the agreement City Council voted on
In addition to Ford’s suggestion for a minority inclusion provision, Councilman Mike Craig is interested in proposing an amendment giving ProMedica maintenance responsibility for the park.
Finally, a “return, remediate and restore” proviso was suggested in an email from Judge James G. Carr, asking Council to consider adding a restoration provision that would have ProMedica return the park land to the city and raze the garage if the company or a successor left the site or substantially reduced its Downtown workforce.
Council agreed to discuss those and other topics during the next stage of negotiations, which will generate a development agreement, a document that’s more legally binding and outlines more specifics of the plan.
That agreement is expected by April and must also be approved by City Council. Construction could start as early as November, and is expected to be completed by 2017.
After the meeting, Robin Whitney, ProMedica’s vice president of property acquisition and development, said she appreciated hearing the perspectives of those who opposed a garage being built at Promenade Park, but hopes improvements to the park will satisfy them in the end.
“I hope one day when we get this project done they’re going to like it,” Whitney said. “That’s really still my goal. I think we’re going to be improving the park and really making it an amenity and I believe that we can still do that. I haven’t given up hope that I can get them converted and be supportive of what we’re doing.”
Before the vote, Ford questioned City Development Director Matt Sapara about the likelihood of adding minority inclusion and restoration provisions to the development agreement, to which Sapara repeatedly said he couldn’t say, but the opportunity for discussion and amending would take place during the next phase.
“Can you tell us that the final agreement will have a strong minority inclusion plank in the agreement?” Ford asked.
“I can tell you, Councilman, there are other things that will be added to the development agreement that aren’t included in the memorandum of understanding,” Sapara said.
“Neither one of his responses satisfy my concern,” Ford told Council.
Many Council members expressed support for a diversity inclusion amendment, but said that discussion would be more appropriate during the next stage of negotiations.
Ford didn’t agree.
“When you look at the lack of minority inclusion in some of the big projects, I think it’s always the time. So I’m disappointed in that,” he said.
ProMedica is already working on a diversity inclusion policy, Whitney said after the meeting.
Councilman Tom Waniewski invoked Edward Drummond Libbey and Michael Owens, two of the pioneers behind Libbey-Owens-Ford, and the impact their investment and development still has on Toledo.
“It’s not a vote for ProMedica or against ProMedica. It’s a vote for Toledo,” Waniewski said. “This is an opportunity for us to repeat the history that the Libbeys and the Owenses started for us. … It’s time to move forward.”
Cindy Kerr, executive director of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District, said she was “thrilled” by the vote.
“We keep hearing it will be a trickle-down effect when they move Downtown; I really think it’s going to be a roaring cascade effect,” Kerr said. “I already see the needle moving.”
Bill Wersell, vice president of business development services with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
“We are ecstatic,” he said. “[Other buildings] are starting to get a lot more interest from out-of-town and out-of-area real estate companies looking to negotiate space for their clients.”
Former Rep. Ed Weber and his wife Alice were among those who advocated for an alternate parking solution.
“My wife and I are badly disappointed that Toledo City Council didn’t see the value in preserving the entire Promenade Park. It’s just very regrettable,” he said. “I believe the six-story garage is going to be a terrible desecration of the park and make it very difficult to turn the park into something beautiful.
“Alice and I want to commend Jack Ford for his vote,” he added. “Although it was not for the same reasons we opposed it, we commend him for his courage. … Our feeling is City Council was intimidated by the threat that this would be a dealbreaker [to ProMedica moving Downtown] if they didn’t agree.”
Former City Council member Mike Ferner, who also opposed a garage being built at the site, said he wasn’t surprised by the vote, but is considering trying to collect enough signatures to put the issue on a ballot.
Carr, who proposed the original deal that enabled the city to acquire the site of the old federal building, said he remains “unconvinced that ProMedica actively investigated and pursued possible options.”
“City Council does not share that view,” he said.
“I do think this is a very welcome development, I really do,” he said. “Part of what I was trying to do 20 years ago with my original proposal was to help bring a bit of life and something nice to that part of the city.”
Before the vote, Councilwoman Sandy Spang thanked the green space advocates, some of whom were in attendance at the meeting, who had spoken on behalf of saving park land during previous meetings.
“To those who spoke to the importance of preserving and enhancing our waterfront I want to thank you for being a part of the conversation,” Spang said. “You shed light on a principle that is important and that we must keep before us as we continue to develop Downtown.”
The city will give ProMedica the park land at no cost, along with property north of the steam plant, currently used as an amphitheater area south of Imagination Station. The agreement also calls for a series of incentives, including real-estate and income-tax abatements and park improvements.
The company expects to spend about $60 million at the site, including $2 million to “restore and improve Promenade Park and the parking site.” The garage will be available to the public for a fee on nights and weekends.
ProMedica has stated the move will bring 1,000 employees Downtown, including 625 new to Toledo, with plans to eventually have 2,500 employees Downtown. The city is projecting a net revenue of $9.2 million over 10 years from the project.