Toledo’s Downtown Renaissance
Ever since the Mud Hens moved to Fifth Third Field, the city has seen a reinvestment surge, including new projects set to open soon.
“You will do better in Toledo.” The century-old slogan, which once adorned a sign overlooking downtown Toledo, has regained new life in recent years, much like downtown itself. Once home to department stores, restaurants and theaters, the area — like many downtowns — saw decline thanks to changing retail and leisure patterns and population shifts. But with the arrival of minor league baseball in 2002 and the opening of a new downtown arena for sporting and entertainment events six years later, people started coming back to downtown Toledo, even more so recently.
Today, in addition to baseball and the arena, downtown Toledo is home to offices, restaurants and an outdoor recreation area in the Village on Adams. And there’s more on the way with plans for a new corporate headquarters, a new luxury hotel, a museum expansion and more mixed-use development.
The Toledo Mud Hens left Maumee for their downtown Toledo ballpark, Fifth Third Field, in 2002. It was the middle of a stadium-building boom, not just in the major leagues, but in the minors, where more than 90 ballparks had been built in the preceding decade.
The move coincided with a period of success for the team, with four playoff appearances in the following six years, including two International League championships, and the team hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2006. It also led to a downtown rebirth. Mud Hens president and CEO Joe Napoli estimates more than 70 new businesses were added within a three-block radius of the ballpark.
“Everything from law firms to coffee shops, bars, restaurants, accounting firms and architects,” he says. “The ballpark was a catalyst for a significant amount of investment.”
But there were four buildings along St. Clair Street that continued to languish.
“They’d been empty for about 30 years,” Napoli says. “The challenge was that these properties were really in poor condition. If not us, who was going to move forward with these properties?”
The Mud Hens made a plan with city and county officials as well as the Toledo Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and the result was Hensville, a mixed-use development that opened last year and includes retail, offices, restaurants and other entertainment venues, plus rooftop seating for baseball fans.
The $21 million project was completed with the aid of $4 million in state historic tax credits — an investment Napoli says leveraged $6 of private investment for every dollar in tax credits. Napoli characterized Hensville as a smashing success.
“This was the fairy tale,” he says. “We had high hopes, but I don’t think we were confident and cocky enough that we thought it would be a no-brainer.” Monroe and North St. Clair streets, Toledo 43504, hensvilletoledo.com
Another company taking advantage of historic tax credits is ProMedica, with its restoration of the former Toledo Edison steam plant as part of a $60 million complex along the Maumee River. The complex, when completed, will employ 900 people — many of the medical company’s employees not attached to one hospital who are currently far-flung across 30 different locations throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
“We’re actually very spread out,” says Robin Whitney, senior vice president of real estate and construction for ProMedica. “It’s going to be an incredible efficiency for us to all be together. There’s a benefit to consolidating for us, but going downtown also leads to the benefit of downtown.”
The restoration involved knocking out the steam plant’s wall facing the river as well as two smokestacks. The smokestacks were replaced with decorative ones built with some of the bricks from the teardown of the wall to maintain the look of the skyline. Although the plant was turned into a four-story building, the atrium incorporates the original high ceilings as well as a crane beam that used to run the length of the building.
“You’re going to really still understand it was a steam plant,” Whitney says. “We’re celebrating the building’s history, but we’re putting state-of-the-art office space in it as well.”
The renovation of the plant and two adjacent buildings — including the former Key Bank building, which will house the YMCA and the Chop House restaurant — will cost around $40 million (including $5 million in historic tax credits), and the construction of a new parking garage is another $20 million.
“Our plan is to move this July or August and be ready to do business this summer,” Whitney says. “It’s really exciting.” Visit promedica.org for more information.
After 50 years in Vermilion, the Great Lakes Historical Society was looking for a new museum in 2003. The society wanted a museum in an area with enough population density to support visitors and charitable giving. In 2014, a terminal on the south bank of the Maumee River originally built for a passenger ferry became the new home for the National Museum of the Great Lakes. The proximity to other downtown events and attractions was a big factor, says museum director Chris Gillcrist.
“You need that kind of critical mass to bring people downtown, and then you need a critical mass of people to come downtown,” he says.
There is room for physical expansion at the museum as well. Plans are being made for an annex with new exhibition space, including the pilothouse of the St. Mary’s Challenger, a freighter that was the sister ship of the Col. James M. Schoonmaker, which is currently moored next to the museum. But the real expansion has come in programming. The lecture series has sold out, and the museum just hired its first education director to develop curriculum for area schools.
“Where we ultimately see ourselves growing is programming for schoolchildren in the museum,” Gillcrist says.
The museum is also home to an underwater archaeology program, which has been part of its mission since 2004.
“We’re not just a repository of old stuff,” Gillcrist says. “We’re out there discovering history.” 1701 Front St., Toledo 43605, 419/214-5000, inlandseas.org
Even with all the new development going on in downtown Toledo, one thing was still missing: a luxury hotel. That niche will soon be filled with the opening of the Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel, located next to the new ProMedica complex. The 241-room hotel, which has gone through a series of names since it opened as the Grand Toledo Plaza in 1985, is undergoing a 16-month, $30 million renovation, says general manager Steve Groppe.
“We’ve taken it down literally to the concrete,” he says. “Everything will be brand new. We’ve left nothing untouched.”
Among the highlights will be a bar, restaurant and private dining on the ground floor, and a 12,000-square-foot rooftop bar offering small plates and views of the river and downtown.
“The views are spectacular and the experience is going to be top-shelf,” he says. “We’ll bring part of Toledo in, but we also want people to see what’s going on outside the hotel.”
Groppe says there’s a lot of energy in Toledo, and he expects it will grow in the years to come. “People are committed to have Toledo come back,” he says. “There’s a concerted group of folks with a strong desire, and they’re working together, which is key. We’re all in this together.” 444 N. Summit St., Toledo 43604, 419/224-2444, marriott.com