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An afterthought was the big news at chamber breakfast

The big news at the annual State of Our Communities breakfast was there was no big news.

The event, sponsored by the Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce and held Thursday at Bay Park Community Hospital, featured speakers from Oregon, Toledo, Northwood and Walbridge.

The biggest project mentioned was the $22 million Wales Road grade separation project going to bid this year. Construction will start in the spring of 2011, said Pat Bacon, Northwood city administrator. Once completed, a motorist will be able to drive from East Broadway to Woodville Road without stopping for a train. The project will ease congestion at other area crossings.

But, this is old news.

Oregon Councilman Jerry Peach spoke about the $10 million Wheeling Road widening. Construction will begin this year to upgrade the road from Navarre to Pickle to five lanes and expand the overpass over I-280 to six lanes. Completion: 2011. Peach also mentioned the $3 million stimulus grant the city received to repave Otter Creek from Corduroy to Wynn.

Peach also said the city’s new two-million gallon water storage tank and a 16-inch water line to a section of Navarre will be completed in 2010.

Old news, too.

That was it.

No mention of any major investment in the industrial sector, nor in the commercial area, although, Pat Bacon did say Woodville Mall was purchased for $700,000 and two new stores have opened there.

All in all chamber members had little to cheer. The fault was not in the speakers but in The Great Recession. No one was hit harder than Northwood, site of a number of auto-related plants including Johnson Controls, Faurecia, Lear and Norplas. Bacon said the city has downsized from 52 to 43 employees as income tax revenue has declined $593,000, or 12 percent.

“We are not spending more than we’re taking in,” Bacon said.

Keeping within the budget was also the concern of Maureen Jacobsen, president of Walbridge council. Jacobsen said, “The budget, always the budget.” Her big news was the village’s purchase of a camera and truck for the sewer department. She said employees are wearing more than one hat as they learn to live with less revenue. For example, the administrator is also head of the street department and other employees have assumed more duties.

Brad Peebles spoke on behalf of the City of Toledo. The new commissioner of the Office of Business and Regional Affairs, formerly the Department of Development, was most recently the director of the defunct River East Economic Revitalization Corporation. REERC was the lead organization for development in East Toledo for more than 25 years. But, when the economy tanked, REERC was forced to liquidate its properties.

Peebles said a new group entitled United East Toledo is attempting to fill the void created with REERC’s departure. The new group, which brings together numerous neighborhood organizations, hopes to spur ancillary development when the casino is built in East Toledo and the languishing Marina District moves forward.

Peebles said the casino, which will be located on the Maumee River, could help development downstream at the Docks and the Marina District.

Much has been written about the casino, but little about this “water highway” connecting the casino to The Docks, The Marina District, the Willis B. Boyer freighter museum, Promenade Park, the Imagination Station and, hopefully, the Great Lakes Museum, should it make the expected move from Vermilion to the base of the Glass City Veterans Skyway.

The city is approaching a critical mass of attractions within a short distance. Nearby, within walking distance, is Fifth Third Field and the Lucas County Arena.

This was the big news and Peebles delivered it to the crowd like an afterthought. He can be forgiven as he’s still unpacking and organizing his office. However, city officials should be talking to Penn National, the casino owner, to make sure they do their part to tie-in with attractions downstream.


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