"Once the undisputed business and shopping center of Lucas County, downtown Toledo long ago lost its status as either of those.
Over the past quarter-century, projects such as CitiFest, Erie Street Market, and COSI have helped sustain the hope of the downtown community.
Downtown's advocates say there is much from which to take heart.
There is Fifth Third Field, which has spawned enough spin-off business to nurture a handful of nearby bars and restaurants, including a Tony Packo's.
The Toledo Riverfront Hotel - which opened as the Hotel Sofitel in the same spurt of redevelopment that produced Portside - is set for a $6 million upgrade and a new name, Crowne Plaza.
City officials are hoping the new county-owned arena being built at Jefferson Avenue and Huron Street, at a cost of $85 million to $105 million, will contribute to downtown's re-emergence - not become another struggling victim.
Also contributing to hopes for an ultimate downtown revival is the Marina District across the Maumee River, now getting a $10 million public road and park investment to be followed by a $75 million private investment promised by real estate developer Larry Dillin."
What is the common theme in all of this? Hope.
Unfortunately, hope is not enough to sustain any type of development or re-development and that's the biggest problem in Toledo. While 5/3 Field does have some new businesses surrounding it, the County hasn't seen any substantial increase in sales taxes as a result. I do not know if Toledo's payroll taxes have increased or not - but considering the loss of other companies (Owens-Illinois, for one), I'm pretty confident in speculating that there hasn't been an overall increase as a result of these new shops/restaurants. And these 'results' would be in keeping with most studies on the economic impact of such ventures that draw from within an existing community. They do not result in NEW spending, but reflect a RE-DIRECTION of existing spending.
The new arena will be the same because, according to the feasibility study, its targeted draw is from a 50-mile radius, meaning that they, too, will be likely to re-direct their spending from one existing activity to a new one in the arena. And this is especially true during the economic times the area is currently (and perpetually) experiencing.
A recent Blade editorial on another topic contained this statement:
"With Fifth Third Field drawing hundreds of thousands of people annually, the construction of the new sports arena well under way, the Marina District moving forward, and downtown eateries and watering holes doing well, it is clear that a foundation should have been laid for a solid downtown revitalization."(emphasis added)
Toledo and its leaders, including The Blade, continue to believe the 'build it and they will come' philosophy of economic development - counting on their hope that such amenities will generate the economic boom we'd all like to see. But in doing so, they neglect the underlying core problems that make Toledo an unfriendly place to do business. They ignore the studies which provide data contrary to what they hope and, as we are seeing in the arena project, they fail to provide a realistic financial plan to the public. This failure means that any potential challenges identified in such plans, or any documented issues identified in the studies, are never addressed either by the decision-makers or the public.
As I wrote in my Toledo Free Press article:
If we are really serious about selling the strengths of this area and recruiting jobs and businesses, we have to show how companies can make money here — as that is their main purpose. We have to show how our infrastructure and qualified work force will make it easier for them to conduct their operations. We have to show how our costs of doing business (payroll, property, income and inventory taxes along with permits and regulations) are less costly resulting in more profit for their owners, shareholders and employees. We have to show how we can help them to be successful, rather than how we expect them to foot the bill for all our individual initiatives (LivCom funding?).
Once we have the companies, the jobs and the resulting payroll expenditures contributing to our overall economy, we'll experience both the demand and the financing for such “quality of life” amenities. They are a result of job growth and expansion — not the cause of it.
We need to stop 'hoping' for economic growth from these attempts and start paying attention to the lack of impact they've had over the last 20 years. Then we have to change our approach if we expect to get different results.