The last half of the 1990s brought into the Eastern Maumee Bay region the promise of more than 70 new development projects totaling $1.4 billion and the creation of nearly 4,000 jobs.
Most of those jobs were full time, family-providing jobs with benefits, and all were already in place or construction of facilities was underway.
At the time, it was widely perceived that economic development would continue its upward trend over the next decade, 2000-09. That promise carried over into the historic neighborhoods of East Toledo.
The decade began with the opening of The Docks, a planned seven-restaurant complex in International Park on the Maumee River. Expected to employ 700, generate $17-19 million in sales, it is estimated to serve 1.7 million meals annually, when the economy is doing well.
The Docks became reality, but another major project nearby, the 127-acre Marina District, remains in a state of limbo waiting for vertical development.
The Marina District idea was originally spurred by nationally successful Columbus developer Frank Kass. His plan included 10 restaurants, 200,000 square feet of prime office space, 50,000 square feet of specialty retail shops, an 18-screen cinema complex, at least 350 apartment units, two hotels, and parking for several hundred cars.
Since then, Kass has abandoned the project, but a couple developers later we now have Larry Dillin of Dillin Corp. in charge. Dillin is known for his company’s development of Perrysburg’s Levis Commons.
After $9 million was spent for environmental remediation, a new marina constructed by the city opened in the Marina District — the only vertical development so far. The Glass City Municipal Marina has 77 docks, mostly for 30, 50, and 60 feet boats, with the one-story passenger terminal building located directly behind the docks.
Marina Drive, a riverfront thoroughfare complete with street lamps, has also been constructed. Dillin’s idea is to create something like along Chicago’s Lakeshore Drive.
“The park will be created first,” Dillin said. “The difference here is we don’t have the traffic. This is not a major thoroughfare. The difference is at Lakeshore Drive, it’s active. It’s full of people. We have that same kind of vision in mind.
“We hope to energize it with community gathering spots,” continued Dillin. “We also want to energize Optimist Park. We want to tie together the existing Garfield communities with the Marina District.”
The Toledo office of the Local Initiative Support Corporation received a $200,000 grant to make improvements to housing, streetscape, and businesses in the Garfield neighborhood — coinciding with Dillin’s plan to unite the neighborhoods.
The largest grant ever to the Toledo LISC, it was provided for the newly formed Connecting the Pieces organization, which hired a coordinator that works directly with East Toledo Family Center director Kim Partin.
Skyline’s lighted jewel
For East Toledo, what has also been realized is the new crown jewel of the Toledo skyline, a $237 million cable-stayed Interstate 280 bridge crossing the Maumee River. The Glass City Veterans Memorial Skyway opened to traffic on May 24, 2006.
The Skyway, with its 350 LED lighting fixtures, is one piece of the $252 million Maumee River Crossing, which is the Ohio Department of Transportation’s largest construction project ever. The bridge’s pylon extends 400 feet above the Maumee River and is higher than Toledo’s tallest downtown building.
Marina Drive was constructed on an angle so that a driver heading across the Marina District would have the lighted pylon and center span of the Skyway in full view.
The river crossing project’s roots date back to 1989. Then, the cities of Oregon and Toledo and various agencies formed a task force with the idea of planning a bridge to take the place of the outdated Craig Bridge, a drawbridge. For the first time in history, there is an unimpeded crossing over the Maumee River on I-280.
“We’re going to unite the whole Northwest Ohio,” said then-Oregon mayor Marge Brown at the bridge’s opening ceremony. Brown had been involved in the project since its inception in 1989, long before becoming mayor.
The Craig Bridge was previously only one of two drawbridges remaining in the nation’s interstate system, and today it has been modified to serve local traffic.
Another bridge into East Toledo was renovated over the past decade — the Martin Luther King Bridge, often referred to historically as the Cherry Street Bridge. The renovation finished, the MLK Bridge still has the same historic look it had after original construction was completed in 1914.
In addition, entering East Toledo across the MLK Bridge, one notices the razing of a railroad bridge that blocked the view of both downtown Toledo and East Toledo from opposite directions.
Housing East Redevelopment Corporation began construction on the Starboard Side Condominiums in 2002. The $7.1 million project, billed as East Toledo’s first market rate housing in 30 years, was to begin its first phase along Miami Street and the Maumee River with 12 two-story and eight three-story luxury condominiums.
In 2005, Paul Hecklinger, Housing East chairman, sold an old farm house on Third Street for $110,000, the highest price his organization had ever gotten for a refurbished house. The three-story home, built in 1905, was likely considered a mansion in its day and was reconstructed to match its original design, including 3,000 square feet of living space.
That same year, Neighborhood Housing Services completed a new house on Utah Street, three on Chesbrough Street, and started a fifth in the Ironwood neighborhood. NHS was beginning plans to build three to four new houses in the 800 block of Yondota Street that would sell between $80,000-$90,000. That is a typical year for NHS.
“We usually build about two or three new houses every year,” said NHS executive director Bill Farnsell.
Another housing development, the $5.3 million Southeast Toledo Homes Project, includes 13 new $136,000 homes in one phase and a $5.4 million second phase includes 21 more homes. That includes 22 new homes to be constructed along Miami Street. There is also the new Locke Branch Library overlooking the Maumee River.
Another change in East Toledo’s neighborhoods is the restoration of “Hecklinger’s Pond.” The City of Toledo spent its own money, plus a $50,000 grant from the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department to check out the pond’s environmental conditions and restore it.