There was barely enough room in the German-American Festival Society club house to seat everyone who came to hear developer Larry Dillin speak at an Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Nearly 90 guests knew they were going to get an earful about the Marina District, Southwyck Mall, and Levis Commons — Dillin’s three Toledo area projects — but what about East Toledo, Main Street, the Woodville Road Corridor, and the Woodville Mall?
What were Dillin’s opinions about the potential of redeveloping the east side icons that were once vibrant decades ago? So they asked.
First they asked about the Woodville Mall, now pending sale. Dillin once consulted with the current owners of the mall, and his plan included buying property for a roadway that would ease access from potential customers in Oregon.
Dillin said the mall owners bought his idea, and even bought the land needed for the new roadway. But they never followed through, Dillin said, and now that roadway property has been sold again to an investor that most likely will never use it for that purpose.
Still, just as developers in the early 1970s believed, Dillin believes the Woodville Road corridor and mall has potential.
“I’d call the Woodville Mall site a good site,” Dillin said. “I would love to work that site if I only had more hours in the day. There are good opportunities on the Woodville Road site and Woodville Road corridor, I just don’t like the way it looks today. It’s a vision we’d love to work on.”
Dillin believes that traffic patterns are what killed the mall, and somehow that access road has to get built, even if a new and different plan was designed. He suggests that political leaders take the initiative to create design standards and prepare to get infrastructure in place.
“The traffic patterns, a transportation mess, is not quite what you want it to be, but I do community planning,” Dillin said. “I think you’re going to have to be responsible for what you want, otherwise you are going to have a scenario where you will have someone like me coming in and saying I’m going to build a strip center.
“You should pre-plan a design — design firms can help a community put leasing terms in place and enforce it. You have to have controls in place to entice good quality infrastructure and good quality streetscape. That’s the problem I have with Toledo — Toledo doesn’t want to invest in itself.
“Not only do we as private citizens need to invest in our community, but we have to encourage our political leaders to do the same thing,” Dillin continued.
As far as East Toledo and Main Street are concerned, Local Initiatives Support Corporation has provided a $200,000 “Connecting the Pieces” T-grant for a study to determine how to blend the Marina District with adjacent neighborhoods. The study is complete, and Dillin said he attended a meeting earlier the same day to discuss its results.
“We want to change the character of Main Street,” Dillin said. “We’ve got a four-lane road that doesn’t need to be a four-lane road. I think East Toledo is a good opportunity from an investment standpoint, if you have a long-term deal.”