By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
The city of Toledo has put one of the Midwest’s most historically significant battlefields up for sale.
Last week, the city asked developers to make offers for 434 acres in Maumee and Monclova Township. The southern third of that land is the site of the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the 1794 conflict that helped open the region to American settlement.
Historians, archaeologists, and area leaders have called for the site’s preservation. One scholar said development on the battlefield would be “a crime.”
But the city’s invitation to developers asked that the site be used for industrial and commercial purposes.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to maximize our return on the land,” said Barry Broome, the city’s acting director of development.
Dr. John Dann, director of the prestigious William Clements Library at the University of Michigan, said last week that the Fallen Timbers battlefield needs to be preserved as an important part of America’s heritage.
“Fallen Timbers was a real turning point in American history and led to the white settlement of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and even Illinois,” Dr. Dann said.
He and a group of eminent American historians called last week for the preservation of the battlefield.
“Fallen Timbers proved for the first time in the history of the nation that its army would and could defend its frontiers,” Dr. Dann said.
The land is the last remnant of a late 1980s land deal, in which Toledo bought 1,130 acres of farmland outside the city limits in an attempt to make space for industry. But the city ran into a dizzying array of obstacles, including a judge’s ruling that the city could not annex the land. It has spent the last several years selling off portions of the land to developers.
The 434 acres for sale are all that remains.
Some city leaders have said that development on the land can only increase the flight of industry to the suburbs. To stave off that flight, the city is asking all developers who submit proposals to commit to development projects in Toledo’s downtown or Warehouse District.
“We feel the market is telling us this is pretty valuable land, and there is a need for more commercial, retail, and entertainment downtown,” Mr. Broome said. “Obviously, our first responsibility is a fiduciary one to the taxpayers.”
Five years ago, Heidelberg College archaeologist G. Michael Pratt identified the battlefield site – northwest of the intersection of I-475 and the Anthony Wayne Trail – and found a slew of artifacts from the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The conflict pitted U.S. troops against Native Americans and opened much of Ohio to westward settlement.
Maumee Mayor Stephen Pauken has advocated turning the 185-acre battlefield into a national historic site, affiliated with the National Park Service.
In contrast, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has made a standing offer to donate 15 acres of battlefield land for a monument. His spokeswoman, Mary Chris Skeldon, said Mr. Pauken has “never accepted the offer.”
“[Mr. Finkbeiner] has an obligation to the citizens of Toledo whose tax dollars have been used to purchase the land,” Ms. Skeldon said. “He feels he needs to obtain the highest reasonable price for the land.”
Mr. Pauken could not be reached for comment last night.
The last sale of the Toledo-owned land was on Jan. 19, when 430 acres were sold to The Isaac Group Holdings, Inc. About a third of that land was then sold to General Growth Properties, Inc., a Chicago-based developer, for a shopping mall.
The Isaacs have an option on the battlefield land, and have the right to match any other developer’s proposal before Jan. 23, 1999.
But company Vice President Zac Isaac said his firm has no interest in doing anything with the land until Toledo, Maumee, and historians come to some agreement on how the land’s historical significance should be handled.
“We would like to have the two cities resolve the use of that land prior to any commercial development,” he said. “At that point, we will decide what to do.” Until then, the Isaacs are busy attracting tenants to their land west of Jerome Road, tenants that would set up near the planned mall.
Mr. Isaacs said the process is going well, although no formal agreements have been signed.
Those tenants would open their facilities about the same time the mall does, Mr. Isaacs said. The mall’s developer has said it expects that will be in 2000.
Developers interested in the city’s land have until July 31 to submit their proposals, although Mr. Broome said he is considering asking officials to extend that date 30 days to give developers more time.
When the proposals are in, a six-member committee appointed by the mayor will evaluate them and make a recommendation to city council.