EAST TOLEDO -- After years of talk, the Marina District plan for east Toledo is now closer than ever to reality. In a news conference Monday morning, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and developer Larry Dillin outlined the plan to put a marina, housing, shops, an amphitheater and plenty of green space on the east bank of the Maumee River.
We have seen three plans like this over the past 5 years, but what's different this time is the fact Larry Dillin is in charge of the project. Dillin once had the lead design for the project, only to have that plug pulled by former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford. In those few years, he created the Levis Commons development in Perrysburg, which has been successful.
Today, Mayor Finkbeiner showed off an artist's concept of the Marina District project. The mayor says there will be $200 million dollars in private funding going into this project, but for the first phase, a waterfont park, some public money will be used. "We want to try to explore all those kinds of possibilities," said Dillin, "We've had discussions with the Port Authority on what kind of funding they could bring to the table. There's lots of potential resources."
Dillin said he and his team "want to get this waterfront park done. Once we get that riverfront defined, that will define the project. Investment will follow." He acknowledged it will be a challenge to develop the Marina District while not harming the businesses already in the docks.
"That's where you'd have concern, is where you'd have overlap," Dillin said. "Other than that, it's creating good quality environments people want to be in."
The Sports Arena poses another challenge. It's right in the middle of the property. Attracting $200 million of private investment is a concern. Dillin said there will be a need for public funds, too -- about $25 million for the initial park development.
"We've had discussions with the Port Authority about what kind of funding they could bring to the table, so there are lots of potential resources," Dillin said. "And this type of project by the way, can tap some of the Federal dollars that have not been used in this area before."
Some say the Marina District will one day break the barrier between the east side and the rest of Toledo. But, some naysayers believe this fourth master plan will fall by the wayside, just like its predecessors.
Tracey Beyer owns a flower shop at the corner of Main and Front Sts. She wants to see the project blossom and hopes it will tear down divisions between the east side and the rest of the city.
"Hopefully, with all this construction and the new Marina District, it's exciting. We'll be able to become one city, and maybe we'll be able to intermingle with each other more," Beyer said.
Until now, just public money has been dedicated to the effort. So, do people think private money will follow? Mavis Dimitroff, a longtime resident, hopes the new development will create a better business climate for the neighborhood.
"There used to be lots going on Main Street," Dimitroff said. "Bit by bit, one went out, so maybe this will take the place of what used to be a better area."
But, some neighbors don't share that optimism.
"I don't have any confidence in it because anything that we voted for isn't being done," said Elaine Everitt.
Indeed, many feel a new sports arena should be located in the Marina District. But all Beyer cares about is that Toledo is creating something good along the riverfront.
"We're wasting some great space out there, and there's just an awesome little river we got here and we can bring in so many people," Beyer said. "This could be their vacation spot, somewhere to go to go shopping and spend money here."
Some who saw the plans before today's news conference say they like how the plans will incorporate the area. "To allow for integration with the neighborhood on the Waite High School side -- the connective parks, the waterways, this is all in the future," said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur in a story first broadcast on WTOL last week.
Hugh Grefe works for LISC, which works closely with the government to improve inner city neighborhoods. "The opportunity exists to create a spill over into neighborhood businesses, to raise property values for people and to improve the overall economic strength of the area," he said in a story first broadcast last week. "That is the kind of plan we celebrate, and we look forward to and we're certain the kind of commitment the mayor and Larry Dillin have is to have it join with the neighborhood."
The proposed Marina District will likely be much greener than past plans, with trees and new street lights, maybe fountains and other attractive outdoor decorations. "I see the horrendous asphalt parking lots disappearing and green starting to sprout up. I see the river being welcomed rather than the buildings turning their back on the rest of the city," said Kaptur.