After 35 years and millions of investment, River East Economic Revitalization Corporation has closed its doors.
The East Toledo-based Community Development Corporation assisted and educated the local business community, created and maintained jobs, operated a business incubator, and redeveloped existing buildings and vacant land, in particular, brownfield sites.
A recent real estate assessment on the Lucas County website had 53 properties listed as being owned by River East Corporation, but former board members say those properties have been sold or have been negotiated for sale and are awaiting closing.
“Fifty-three properties is a lot — that basically has been whittled down to nothing,” said Neil MacKinnon, an east side businessman who served over 10 years on the board. “We didn’t file for bankruptcy and we worked out agreements with the creditors and everybody has been very creative working with us.”
River East is best known for The Docks in International Park, the renovation of the historic Weber Block at Main and Front, Starboardside Condominiums, and its role in nurturing the proposed Marina District.
“I think River East has been a great value over the years,” said former board member and long time River East chairman Dennis Fairchild. “There have been many companies that have been able to start their business and grow from being able to start it in an area where they were awarded low rents.
“Overall, they’ve (River East) been really valuable and it’s really sad that the economic times just put it into a situation where it just wasn’t able to function any more. (The city) kept reducing (contributions), and that’s a sign of the economic times, too,” Fairchild continued.
The Docks consisted of rehabilitating an old 30,000 plus square feet warehouse into five restaurants on the Maumee River waterfront overlooking the Toledo skyline. The original investment was $13 million from private, city, and federal dollars. Today, it remains a major attraction for visitors and local residents. But in three-and-a-half decades, there was much more.
“Here’s something that a lot of people don’t realize — for example, we didn’t do housing,” MacKinnon said. “The housing we did was market rate housing. It was always our opinion that East Toledo already had its fair share of subsidized housing and we wanted to do market rate so us, along with Housing East and Neighborhood Housing Services, could develop Starboardside Condominiums, which are absolutely beautiful. The first phase is done.
“We were a business incubator,” MacKinnon continued. “Our whole mission was retaining and attracting businesses to East Toledo for jobs.” In a way, MacKinnon said, River East was sometimes a victim of its own success. Tenants in the incubator, due partly to support River East provided, became successful and moved out to nicer headquarters.
At its closing, Brad Peebles was director. Peebles has moved on to become commissioner of economic development under Toledo Mayor Mike Bell.
Peebles promises that in his new role he will continue to be an advocate for East Toledo.
“My objective is to get a united voice in East Toledo to talk with the city. I think there are a lot of possibilities for a lot of positive things to happen,” Peebles said.
“Mayor” of East Toledo
As Peebles joined the city’s current administration, former River East director Don Monroe was among four economic development officials working under the Carty Finkbeiner administration who were let go.
When East Toledo business owners think of River East, they will tell you they think of Monroe. The two are nearly synonymous, and in 30 years as director he was occasionally nicknamed “mayor” of East Toledo.
“Don Monroe was the driving force behind River East. He really helped to make it successful,” Fairchild said.
MacKinnon said, “I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done. Don Monroe is responsible, with the help of River East, for millions of dollars in development and thousands of jobs. I can’t imagine what East Toledo would look like without River East organization. If you look at The Docks — which obviously the restaurant owners are responsible for, but that’s an element. You know, there’s Bowser-Morner, and then all the small stuff that nobody hears about.”
One business owner, Michael Armstrong of Michael’s Catering, says his business would not be flourishing in the Weber Block today if it were not for Don Monroe.
“River East in the beginning with Don was wonderful to work with and throughout the years they’ve been nothing but pleasant and fair,” Armstrong said.
“I think it’s a sad thing, but at the same time if you want to look at something positive — what River East did,” Armstrong continued. “Most of the buildings that they purchased and tried to keep this neighborhood revitalized with have been sold to private investors, who in turn are doing exactly what River East started doing. So River East, in the closing, in my mind has been a tremendous success because they came in and created the opportunity for development. If they didn’t, give credit to them for exactly what they were supposed to — buying buildings, renovating, and creating opportunities for people to run businesses.”
Monroe, a Clay graduate, started with River East in 1974. Even though he no longer lives on the east side, his heart has always been there —wanting to see the older neighborhoods he grew up in restored to their former glory.
“It was a privilege to get to work in my own community and get paid to do it. Just think about how great that is — to be able to do something that you enjoy,” Monroe said. “The people to be commended are the volunteers that never got paid.
“What a great group of people over the course of 35 years from all over the eastern community that gave their time serving on the board there, and that was always the backbone of the organization and its strength,” Monroe continued. “I think the important thing was that the board always represented all different constituents from the community — presidents, banks, medical, retail, anybody you can think of.
“We wanted a diverse representation. We didn’t want everybody thinking alike. We had a good run. The most important thing probably is that the buildings that we acquired and are being renovated are still being used today. If they are not, they are going to be shortly.”