When the LeSo Art Gallery on Starr Avenue celebrated its one-year anniversary, 400 to 500 people showed up to celebrate, estimates District 3 councilman Mike Craig.
The art gallery is joined on the Main-Starr corridor by Frankies Inner City Rock Club and Mainstreet, which both play host to some of the most recognized artists while they tour through the nation.
Craig sees an opportunity, and he’s not the only one.
Earlier this month, he held a two-and-a-half hour forum at Leso Art Gallery to discuss with the corridor’s property and business owners the future of the Main Street corridor. He, and about a half dozen property and business owners in attendance, would like to see more art, music, and culture.
“This is an idea that can really revitalize five or six blocks of Main Street,” Craig said. “You know what the good part is? We don’t need very much from the city. If we get something from the city, if we get grants and stuff, that’s great.
“If the business owners are satisfied with the way things are going now, then you know what, I’m done. But if they are not satisfied, and they want something better for their businesses, for their property, then this is a good plan. It’s nothing that I came up with on my own. We just need to get the business owners and the property owners together and organize. We have to show them what’s possible. That’s all we need to do because they’ll see what’s possible and they are the ones with the property there. They are going to do what they need to do to make their property more profitable.”
Craig plans to hold another forum January 22 at 6 p.m. at a site to be announced, and he’s bringing in a special presenter — Robb Hankins, the CEO of ArtsinStark, the Stark County Arts Council. Craig is also expecting economic development representatives from Mayor-Elect Mike Collins administration and the Toledo Arts Council to be there.
Hankins played a major role turning around similar business districts in nine communities across the country. He’s latest project was in Canton, beginning seven years ago, where the arts council and the chamber of commerce partnered to revitalize the downtown business district.
“He’s done this before and I just kind of want people to understand that this isn’t just something that I’ve come up with and that it’s some wild idea that I have,” Craig said. “This is an idea that he has used in two or three different places and it’s worked. Other people have used it all over the nation and it worked. And, I am happy to steal their idea.”
There’s safety in numbers
Believe it or not, Main Street has been rated highly for this kind of thing by at least one study.
“Part of neighborhood development, they talk about walk-ability. How walk-able a neighborhood is. What services can you get by walking if you live in that neighborhood?” Craig explained. “Main Street has a walk-ability score that is between moderately walk-able and very walk-able. It’s one of the best scores in the city.”
This is not the first time anyone has suggested this for Main Street. In the 1990s, because of the success of three Main Street night clubs, Frankies, The Main Event, and Club Nucleus, the owner of all three clubs, Rob Croak, suggested creating the River East Entertainment District.
According to Croak, between 1,500 and 2,000 people were hopping from club to club on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.
However, much of the momentum from the 1990s came to end when local residents complained about loud music late at night, fights, and underage drinking.
Although the crowds are coming back, Craig stresses that to be successful those issues cannot come into play.
“If you’re playing outdoor music, you don’t let that go on until midnight. You stop it at 10 o’clock and take it indoors, and control your crowds,” Craig said. “That’s the way you’re supposed to act.
“People who are elderly and worried about safety and stuff, there is nothing better for safety than having two or three hundred people out in the street. You have half a dozen people in one group, and three or four in another, and everybody is going from business to business. That’s better than having a police car dedicated to Main Street.”
Now nearly a dozen years later, Innovation Concerts, is resurrecting the spirit of The Main Event at its original east side location by converting The Main Street Bar back into a live music venue. Innovation Concerts currently books local and touring acts at Headliners and Mickey Finn's in Toledo, and Howard's Club H and The Cla-Zel Theatre in Bowling Green.
"And we will continue to do so," says Broc Curry, founder of Innovation Concerts, regarding the other venues his company currently books. "We decided to re-launch a venue at The Main Event's prior location because there isn't a room of that size with as much legacy in the city. Toledo had a great music scene. My goal in doing this is to bring that energy back to Toledo."
Craig added, “To get people to come to your neighborhood, sometimes you have to have events, like sponsor an outdoor concert or three or four in the summer. If you get people to come to your neighborhood, they feel safe, they look around, and they start going, “Hey, you know what, this would be a great place for this.’
“Artists don’t have any money, right? But, guess what, you know how much income people who buy art have? You get those people coming to your neighborhood, your Main Street, and they come to an art show and they might want to stop and have a drink or two, and grab a bite to eat, or they might want to do some additional shopping. They don’t want to shop at (a department store), they want to shop somewhere they can get unique items,” Craig continued.