On cable television’s first episode of TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland,” actor Betty White mockingly referred to Toledo as “The Paris of Ohio.”
If one were to ask Chinese investors representing Dashing Pacific Group, LLC what attracted them to Toledo, they might tell you that the veteran actor’s lines were not far from the truth.
The Chinese development firm has signed an agreement to purchase The Docks riverfront restaurant complex in East Toledo’s International Park.
Toledo Deputy Mayor Dean Monske, a former director of the Oregon Economic Development Foundation, and Perrysburg real estate investor Scott Prephan, who represents the Chinese company, say Toledo’s cultural opportunities have impressed the Chinese.
First, Monske and Prephan traveled to China with Mayor Mike Bell last September to meet with the potential investors, and then Chinese businessmen reciprocated by visiting Toledo.
“We have some tremendous cultural resources which they responded to very well — the art museum, the symphony, and so having those treasures in this area are very meaningful to the Chinese,” Prephan said.
“We have a very strong university and again, education is very strong to the Chinese, so when you package up the resources that we have — the cultural resources, the business, the government resources and our university, that’s the package that they’ve responded to very well with. Once they were comfortable with all of those things, in their own mind, they said, ‘This is the place we want to do business. Now let’s start looking at some opportunities,’” Prephan added.
Monske said after watching a Detroit Pistons exhibition game at the Huntington Center, the Chinese investors were given a showing by the Toledo Symphony.
“They actually put on a private quintet, or quartet, that they had for us — it was literally a kind of private playing by the Toledo Symphony, and the two that were the main players of it were Chinese-Americans, and so they could speak in Chinese to them afterwards about the symphony and about Toledo. That was nice,” Monske said.
When it comes to culture, the Chinese aren’t the only potential investors that have been impressed.
“You should have seen the museum, and this one woman who was here three weeks ago. She wasn’t from the group that’s buying The Docks, but she’s a very large real estate investor and we are working on some projects with her,” Monske said.
“She went to the museum and she studied art her whole childhood. She was really, really knowledgeable. Some of the pieces she saw at the Toledo museum, she said, ‘I have studied these pieces my whole life and I cannot believe I am now looking at the originals in a city that I’ve never heard of. I thought this would be in Paris, or in New York, or L.A., but not somewhere in the Midwest.’ That kind of stuff just blows people away but we just take it for granted anymore because we’ve had it for so long.”
Councilman Mike Craig believes the Chinese investors see opportunity where many Americans have not.
“If people take the time to really look at Toledo, there is a lot to offer here. Great location for manufacturing, and just a great location — we’re on a lake, we’ve got a river. You probably can’t find open riverfront property in any Chinese city,” Craig said. “I’ll tell you, it’s kind of sad to hear in the media a lot people running down the city and nothing ever is right here. That’s just not the case.”
Monske added, “Whether it’s Chinese or someone from California, when people outside the region come here they are astounded by all we have in this city. It’s the people who have lived here their whole life that always want to hammer Toledo. Do some traveling — you’ll find out how nice this city is. You don’t need to go through the litany of all the reasons. I know those reasons, but people come in — that’s the stuff they see.”
This would be the Chinese company’s first investment in the U.S., but Monske believes no one should be any more concerned with these investors than any other foreign investors.
“We’ve got a whole lot of balls in the air with foreign investment, which we think is very, very positive. It’s no different than when Fiat bought Chrysler. Everyone was excited because we got some new money. That was foreign investment from an Italian company. We have a lot of that going on and it’s nice to have this relationship,” Monske said.
“When you go to China, and you do the presentations we gave — the demographics, the logistics, all the numbers and then show them video and everything, you’ll start having them in here.”