Column: Detroit’s neighbor offers much
It’s a city that had until recently seen better days.
Now there are new hotels and other commercial redevelopment of once-vacant buildings. One finds sports — professional hockey and baseball teams — and a growing entertainment district anchors a casino.
Then there are the bars and eateries frequented by hipsters and young professionals, the magnificent fine arts museum, a major university and a zoo that’s widely regarded despite being in flyover country.
The vibe is clearly one of the things on the up.
So, which city is it? If you guessed Detroit you would be wrong. The answer is Toledo.
Long overshadowed by the Motor City, the Glass City is only a short drive from its big neighbor to the north. This close proximity means the two cities share a common past.
Detroit peaked in 1950, when it was the country’s wealthiest city on a per capita basis. Back then the assembly line was the economy.
The same is true for Toledo, which saw its population peak at 383,818 in 1970. In the ensuing decades the Glass City’s population dropped 25.17 percent.
Previously, Toledo’s jobs were at automakers and glassmakers. Today, the major force in the city’s resurgence is ProMedica after the nonprofit health care system relocated 900 workers to its new downtown headquarters.
I stayed at the Renaissance, an excellent new hotel overlooking the Maumee River and downtown. It was perfect for discovering Toledo by car and foot.
Driving around, it’s obvious that the number of boarded up buildings is on decline.
While I didn’t see any tumbleweeds blowing down the streets, the city did feel much bigger than it is.
Some parts even felt like a desert due to the lack of retail shopping. The culprit? The 1970s mall and a litany of big box stores in suburbs encircling the city proper.
In the Old West End, the equivalent to Indian Village in Detroit, I discovered what is claimed to be one of the largest collections of Victorian and Edwardian homes in the entire country.
Elsewhere I saw church spires towering above detached row houses and old brick warehouses.
The Toledo I discovered wasn’t the Toledo most Michiganians think of when they drive down Interstate 75 to connect onto the Ohio Turnpike. In fact, I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised.
The signs of gentrification are everywhere. You also see this in other cities of the old Rust Belt — Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee.
If I had to guess, I would say Toledo is probably where Detroit was five years ago, which is to say both cities still have a ways to go before they can lure the next Amazon HQ2.
Dennis Lennox is a political commentator and public affairs consultant.