The Press Newspaper
East Bank of Maumee River Set for Major Revitalization
Most of the east bank of the Maumee River has sat dormant for decades. Gone are major industries such as the Gulf Oil Refinery and Toledo Coking. Given the massive recession in the housing and retail sectors, the Marina District may be many years off. That does not mean that there are not major developments to reshape east Toledo’s shores and provide economic development for a city that desperately needs it.
Last year, the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority acquired the sites of the former Gulf Oil Refinery and Toledo Coking for $4.3 million. With these additions, the Port of Toledo now reigns as the largest land mass port on the Great Lakes. The port authority now owns seven linear miles of coastal property spanning from the Nabisco Plant on Front Street to the CSX Coal Docks in Oregon.
Land mass doesn’t necessarily translate into activity and it will be many years before the Port of Toledo rivals the Port of Duluth – the busiest of the Great Lakes terminals – for cargo throughput. However, this massive expansion of Toledo’s international seaport portends significant economic development for Toledo.
Once the property was acquired, the Lucas County Improvement Corp. (LCIC) received a $5 million Shovel Ready Site Grant from the State of Ohio to make this dormant property productive. This $7 million project will dredge the dock area, restore the dock face, and prepare the site for vertical development which should begin before the end of 2009, according to LCIC interim president, Matthew Sapara.
Sapara credits the vision of James Hartung, former port authority president, and Alex Johnson, president of Midwest Terminals International of Toledo, the company that operates the general cargo docks at the Port of Toledo. “Jim realized that that property offered the only avenue left to the port authority to expand the seaport,” said Sapara. “Alex was quick to realize its potential to expand both the volume and diversity of cargo passing through the seaport.”
So, just what kind of development can we expect along Front Street that will lead to new jobs in east Toledo? According to Sapara, Toledo’s emergence as a center of alternative energy will drive the success of the project.
“So much of what is being developed and produced in Toledo in alternative energy technology is exportable,” said Sapara. “Conversely, much of what Toledo will need to meet its full potential as an alternative energy center will have to be imported. The seaport and Midwest Terminals will make out on both ends.”
There is great potential at the Port of Toledo. But we’ve been hearing about “potential” for more than 20 years. Toledoans have heard it so many times it’s hard to get excited. Numerous pitfalls remain for this project and a vacuum of leadership might loom as the largest.
Since consummating the deal to expand the seaport, James Hartung was unceremoniously dumped as the president of the port authority for alleged personal improprieties with a contractor. The port authority is conducting a national search for his replacement. Interim president Paul Toth has been with the port authority since 1988 serving as an engineer, director of technical services, director of airports, director of finance and technical services, and interim president. He has been an integral part of every port authority development for the last 20 years. The port authority board of directors can scour the nation for a new president. But it seems that the person with the institutional wisdom, technical ability, and financial acumen is already in their midst. We will wait with bated breath to see if they realize it.
The other vacuum of leadership exists at the LCIC. Matt Sapara is doing double duty as the interim president of the county’s lead economic development agency and the director of project development at the port authority. Somehow, he’s able to devote the time and energy necessary to be successful at both. The agency is hampered by a lack of participation by the City of Toledo who, under two mayors, has declared that if they can’t run it, they won’t be a part of it. It has also had its progress slowed by County Commissioner Ben Konop who treats the LCIC like a political animal he is dedicated to mounting as a trophy. Meanwhile, Sapara operates with “interim” in a title he ought to hold permanently. Political jealousy and turf battles continue to hamper our economic development efforts.
So there it is. More of the same potential we’ve been promised by two generations of politicians. Let us hope the elected officials and political appointees who guide the region are wise enough to realize the potential and make the informed choices that will assure jobs are created in east Toledo and that the whole region benefits from these positive developments.