Before I got my current job, there were only two reasons I ever had for going to downtown Toledo: to shop at the St. Vincent De Paul thrift store, or to go to the Greyhound bus station. For the past two years, though, I’ve been driving into downtown every weekday, and I’m honestly embarrassed at the state of my city.
Especially since my trip to Chicago this past Labor Day, I’ve been trying to think of ways to improve the things I perceive as problems with downtown. I’m not a civil engineer, a politician, or any sort of logistics guru, but I do play a mean game of SimTower. So, now I’m thinking of downtown revitalization in terms of a Sim / Sid Meier game.
I took my lunchtime walk in Portside today, since the rain showed no signs of letting up. Actually, I should say I took my walk through the CitiWalk, as a.) there is technically no Portside anymore, and b.) I passed through several distinct buildings during my walk. I’ve mentioned CitiWalk before — it’s a series of tunnels (both above and below ground) that connects several buildings and parking garages by the river. Without going outside, I can walk from my building to the Key Bank building across the street, then beneath a stretch of driveway/park to
COSI Imagination Station, and through to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, past abandoned mall storefronts to One Seagate, then underneath Summit Street to the Vistula parking garage.
Usually, when I take this route, it’s just me and the mall-walkers. Today, though, it was me, the mall-walkers, and all the families going to and from the Imagination Station. See, the Vistula Garage is advertised as being connected to the Imagination Station by an underground concourse (CitiWalk), and parking is only $3 with validation (as I overheard from an Imagination Station employee today).
The route from Vistula Garage to Imagination Station is not exactly the most breathtaking of scenes. It does have its moments, but for the most part, it’s a slightly creepy trip.
First, there’s the walk through the underground tunnel to One Seagate; then, the automatic doors at the end open to reveal clean spaces and classical music.
The lobby to One Seagate is expansive and conspicuously empty. I wonder if anything was ever set up in here, other than the UPS dropbox? Honestly, doesn’t this look like the perfect area to put some comfy chairs, some small tables with lamps (maybe — I don’t see any outlets), and some potted plants and trees (either real or fake)?
Adjacent to the lobby is a food court area; sometimes it’s totally empty, but sometimes there are individuals at tables here and there, reading, or on their laptops, or eating takeout (perhaps from the one restaurant tucked away in the corner of One Seagate).
There’s an empty spot where a lunch counter used to be. Looks to me like the perfect place for a small gyro-slinging stand, maybe with the front counter stocked with some fettoush and tabbouli and more American fare like macaroni salad and fruit salad. Maybe some baklava and some cheesecake. And Turkish coffee.
One of the few businesses open in this small deserted stretch of mall is the Seagate Barbershop. I honestly wonder how much business they get. Out of 20-some-odd floors of offices, though, there must be some people who make use of the barbershop over their lunches. (This photo is looking back the way we came, by the way.)
After the barbershop is the turnoff for the Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly the Riverfront Hotel), which used to have a lunch buffet with different themes every day: Mexican, Asian, pizza, et al. They stopped offering the buffet, though, so we stopped patronizing their restaurant, in favor of other establishments.
Just past that, on the other side of the hall, is a turnoff to walk under Summit Street to Four Seagate, which houses some attorneys and other businesses. I’ve only really walked down that way when the weather was extremely bad and I had a full 45 minutes to kill on the CitiWalk.
In addition to all the blatantly vacant storefronts, there are shuttered stores proudly proclaiming the direction to the elevator to nowhere. I don’t know how large these shuttered stores are, or if they’re even stores at all — maybe they’re storage. Or maybe they’ve become that way after being vacant for so many years.
Finally, the destination! Two non-functioning escalators leading up to Imagination Station:
Once you get there, Imagination Station looks like a fun place to bring your kids (but not so much for non-parental grown-ups). Even so, the route from the parking garage, though short, is still an embarrassment.
According to the rules of SimTower, we’re doing OK. We have a hotel, we have offices, we have one restaurant, and we have entertainment. Housing is out of the question — I only know one person who has voluntarily lived downtown, and that was only because his license got suspended for a short time, so he had to live within walking distance of work.
Another SimTower suggestion: more restaurants. Working downtown, I usually eat out with my department once a week, and we’ve pretty much exhausted all the options we know. (Although, now that I think about it, we haven’t checked out the place in the basement of One Seagate.) We have our go-to places, and we do try places we haven’t been, but we could always use more options.
The question is how to get businesses downtown, and how to get people to come downtown to patronize those businesses. During the week, we office workers are a captive audience of sorts. On the weekends, and during some evenings, people come to baseball games at Fifth-Third Field, or hockey or arena football games (or concerts) at the brand-spanking-new Lucas County Arena. How do we get people to spend an entire day in Toledo, instead of coming up for just the game?
I don’t have the answers. Even if I did have the answers, I doubt anyone would listen.