12 min

Toledo's lost opportunities

( My January 2012 ToledoTalk.com comment )

"The facts continue to be, there are more people living in cities today than at any point in the history of our world. The percentage is rising."

Not in Toledo. Census numbers for Toledo:

1950 303,616 7.5%
1960 318,003 4.7%
1970 383,818 20.7%
1980 354,635 -7.6%
1990 332,943 -6.1%
2000 313,619 -5.8%
2010 287,208 -8.4%

Last decade when the Bartley Lofts and the St. Clair townhomes opened downtown, they offered buyers a 10- to 15-year property tax abatement. Is that crap still continuing?

How about this. Offer the property tax abatement to homeowners who have lived in Toledo for at least 15 consecutive years instead of or in addition to someone moving here from Chicago.

Downtown is improving. Yes, no kidding. Good. It was improving back in the 1990s too. But it irritates me as a Toledo resident and transplant to this region when the focus is overwhelmingly on downtown Toledo while the rest of the city decays, and we have our taxes, fees, and assessments increased. That makes the other communities more attractive than West Toledo.

This is an easy area to drive around in. You may not like it, but this area is a driving society. I prefer walking. But we like our vehicles. That could be because this is an auto-producing region. And for many area residents, it's simple to enjoy or work downtown or other parts of Toledo while living elsewhere.

"I think a strong downtown would be an excellent deterrent to the brain drain issue. Urban living is very appealing to 20 somethings, and it's just a perpetual reward system: those kids that want to live in an urban area like what downtown has to offer and they stay."

I'll point out where Toledo has blown it big time, in my opinion. Below is another example of how Toledo has managed to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.

Some creative types like to live in small, rural college towns like Athens, Ohio. Some prefer to live in big cities like Chicago and New York. But a mid-sized city like Toledo could or should fill that in-between role.

First, a June 2011 comment by BusterBluth:

Columbus has done very well linking their downtown reinvestments with the Short North and German Village and they're wonderful places to live. Toledo needs to take it further, fill the downtown voids and link it with the Old West End neighborhoods to really get the snowball rolling. It takes 20+ years and I don't think the folks in charge in Toledo [have] the mindset or the patience.

In that same thread, June 2011 comment by djimpelr:

I drove drove the one Market area and then the other areas on High St., I presume is the Short North area. People walking in and out of shops, spending money on mainly local vendors, people enjoying parks and people watching, and well, it was just happening. I can only imagine how things are when the majority of college kids are back. But the fact remains, when there are creative open minds (and not just uber-liberal types) and outside the box mentality, the possibilities are endless when it comes to prosperity.

My July 2006 comment

Technology and the arts, Toledo has just enough to get by, but the city has plenty of room to do better in both areas. What's interesting is that the arts and technology usually go together.

In the 2005 rankings for top cities in the U.S. for the arts, Columbus ranks #20 in the top 25 list for cities with a population of 500,000 and over. On the top 25 list for cities in the population range of 100,000 to 499,999, Ann Arbor ranks 8th, Pittsburgh 10th, Cleveland 13th, Cincinnati 21st, and Buffalo 23rd, but Toledo doesn't make the list.

The arts scene in Toledo is good, but it could have been so much better if UT had offered a Master of Fine Arts program, and if UT and the Toledo Art Museum had formed a better partnership years ago. The opportunities squandered by those two institutions have hurt the city.

Rankings could be worthless. Cities may buy their way onto a list. But here's another one, anyway.

Summer 2011 issue of American Style Magazine - Top 25 Mid-Sized Cities for Art :

1. St. Petersburg, Fla.
2. Savannah, Ga.
3. New Orleans, La.
4. Charleston, S.C.
5. Scottsdale, Ariz.
6. Ann Arbor, Mich.
7. Tampa, Fla.
8. Alexandria, Va.
9. Boulder, Colo.
10. Miami, Fla.
11. Pittsburgh, Pa.
12. Athens, Ga.
13. Providence, R.I.
14. Minneapolis, Minn.
15. Chattanooga, Tenn.
16. Salt Lake City, Utah
17. Colorado Springs, Colo.
18. Honolulu, Hawaii
19. Buffalo, N.Y.
20. Rochester, N.Y.
21. Raleigh, N.C.
22. Cleveland, Ohio
23. Kansas City, Mo.
24. St. Louis, Mo.
25. Cincinnati, Ohio

Columbus ranks 23rd on the 2011 list of Top 25 Big Cities for Art

The 2011 Top 25 Small Cities for Art - Saugatuck, Mich ranks 4th. Saugatuck and nearby Douglas are nice areas for art.

Anyway, in February 2006, the Toledo Blade published a lengthy story about the failings of the partnership between the University of Toledo Art School and the Toledo Art Museum. I think the article irritated people at both orgs, so the Blade did a good job.

My comments in a February 2006 post

The Sunday Blade contained a story titled UT-art museum collaboration falls short of objectives.

It does seem odd that with a top-notch art museum nearby that UT's arts program isn't better than it is. Based upon the terse comments from art museum officials, it doesn't appear that the art museum is interested in cozying up with UT anymore than it already has. But then again, it also appears that UT hasn't placed much emphasis on improving its arts program. One part of this Blade story was titled "Missed opportunity."

But it's still more than an art museum and a university with a good arts program. They are all pieces to the puzzle. But Toledo needs artists, and the artists need places to work.

Last year [2005], I heard that the Ford administration or some group in the city was planning to contact all the owners of vacant buildings along Monroe Street from downtown out toward the art museum to see if the building owners could make their vacant spaces available to artists for studios and galleries and possibly for more of UT's arts programs. I wonder what's happened with this "project" if it can be called that?

From a February 2006 Blade op-ed:

NOTHING stands as a more stunning testament to the ongoing culture of mediocrity at the University of Toledo than UT's failure to take advantage of its collaboration with the Toledo Museum of Art. As detailed in a Blade story on Sunday, UT's art department has squandered easy opportunities to join with the world-class art museum to advance the university's educational mission.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design, when it granted the UT art department accreditation in 2004, admonished the university for failing to have a full-time faculty member assigned to teach in the new pavilion. The art museum's response? UT never asked. That's no way to bring national prominence to the art school program, as promised two decades ago by then-UT President James McComas.

Lack of operating funds is the handy excuse given for UT's failure to make a success of its museum collaboration, but the real culprit is the lack of inspired leadership - the tendency to settle for less than the best.

Excerpts from a March 2006 Toledo Free Press opinion

Never mind the equally stunning fact that the UT art school was not even formally accredited until 2004. This mind-boggling revelation, which originally came in the form of an audacious self-congratulatory UT press release announcing the art school's 2004 "milestone," astonished even those long accustomed to UT ineptitude.

From my notes at a June 2005 ReUrbanism meeting

Monroe Avenue for the Arts is being used to try to attract musicians and other artists downtown. City conducted a study about Monroe. City will meet with all building owners on Monroe to see what can be done to attract artists.

But it has been stated in the past that the University of Toledo has little to no interest in downtown Toledo. And many agree with the notion that UT should be isolated.

From my same June 2005 ReUrbanism meeting notes:

It was said that one of our greatest assets is the University of Toledo. It's landlocked. Need to find a way to connect UT with downtown Toledo. Get more students downtown like in Ann Arbor and Bowling Green.

One at the meeting spoke with a [UT] trustee or trustees, and he believes UT has a suburban attitude and desires to keep its world on campus.

Crazy ideas were proposed at that meeting and elsewhere last decade:

It was suggested that the UT Law School be moved downtown, and have UT play their sports in a downtown arena.

If UT trustees aren't interested, then get new trustees. It's a public university. UT receives taxpayer dollars. UT should be more open to being a part of Toledo's downtown growth.

The arts and UT. Apparently, UT would like more studio space concentrated in an area such as Monroe St downtown.

Light rail mentioned as a possible form of public transportation like what's used in Dublin. It would be a way to connect UT to downtown. Also suggested that TARTA do more.

In 2004 or 2005, some signs were installed downtown, proclaiming the "Monroe Avenue for the Arts".

February 2005 Toledo Talk thread titled Strategic Toledo Arts plan.

Here's the report (PDF file) created from input at public meetings that were held back in 2003: http://toledotalk.com/toledo-arts-plan.pdf

In 2007, the following formed:

The above are positive steps, but installing signs and creating a map or report are not the same as a community growing organically over a generation or two.

My 2006 comment :

Graduating high school students interested in the arts are probably more likely to choose a university for undergrad work that also offers an MFA. Or lets say they do their arts undergrad work at UT, but then they want to go to grad school. Most likely they'll leave UT for a school offering an MFA.

When arts students are searching for a good, affordable university, UT probably won't be on their list. With our fine art museum, UT should be attracting arts people from other areas of the country. After graduating and if they like the arts community in Toledo, they may stay here and work at a job that let's them use their arts skills, or they may start their own biz.

The arts district or community could stretch along Monroe St from downtown out to the art museum and the Old West End. I heard this mentioned last year, that the city would contact the owners of the many vacant buildings along Monroe St and see if the owners will allow artists to use them, and maybe get more of UT's arts programs downtown too.

Some of UT's arts classes are already taught at the museum now. Maybe move all of UT's arts school downtown. That may require some kind of convenient people-mover to shuttle students back and forth from downtown to the main campus.

Similar statements in a July 2007 comment

Technology and art seem to go together. That is, computer or scientific nerd types like living and working in areas that also have a thriving arts scene. Maybe it's a left and right brain balance thing.

Steve Jobs said about the early days of his Apple company that he didn't employ the brightest computer scientists in the world. He said he employed artists who just also happened to be the brightest computer scientists in the world.

Over the years, I've noticed computer types here and elsewhere who in their spare time are painters or sculpters or poets or simply fans of the arts. I've seen hard core massively intelligent computer programmers take a break at their workplace by banging out some classic tunes on a grand piano.

In my opinion, with the university and a fine art museum, the Toledo arts scene and arts community should much bigger and better than it is for a city this size. I blame the problem on what's described in the title of this Feb 12, 2006 Blade story titled UT-art museum collaboration falls short of objectives.

Western Michigan, Bowling Green, Ohio University and maybe some other MAC schools offer Master of Fine Arts degrees. UT's lack of a MFA program is an unfortunate blunder for the local area.

A graduating high school arts student may ignore UT because of UT's lack of an MFA. Or maybe the student does undergrad work at UT but leaves to pursue a MFA at another school. And upon graduating from that other school, that student may not return to Toledo. At another school in another city, that student may end up wanting to stay there because of that city's arts community and jobs that allow a student to use his or her art skills.

I think a decent, affordable MFA program at UT, plus Toledo's Art Museum, plus Toledo's affordable living standard, plus Toledo's population size which would mean a better chance at finding work or starting a biz or finding a thriving arts community, would have been a big plus to this area economically and culturally. Sometimes new, small, non-art-related businesses like to locate in artsy, eclectic areas.

Five to six years have now passed. Has anything changed or improved with the UT - Art Museum relationship? Maybe it doesn't need to change. I know UT is good for engineering, law, education, and the medical field, but is UT offering an MFA? Is the UT leadership still embracing its isolated views? Does that even matter anymore? Of course, positive changes in these areas should have occurred at least 20 years ago. A blown opportunity that cannot be rectified quickly. Maybe someone can explain how these things fail to happen.

#toledo - #politics - #business - #art - #blog_jr

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