By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Federal officials have committed to vacating the Federal Building downtown, a structure that many consider an eyesore and a key target for Toledo’s efforts to beautify the riverfront.
“That should be open space,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo). “That riverfront is Toledo’s strongest asset.”
The building, 234 North Summit St., will be empty by the end of September, officials of the General Services Administration said at a closed meeting Wednesday. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wants to tear it down and make it into an extension of Promenade Park.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the area the Federal Building is located in is central to our revitalization efforts,” the mayor said. “It’s really important that we create a nice panoramic view of the river.”
The meeting was attended by representatives of the federal agencies housed in the building.
City officials emphasized their desire to keep the dislocated employees in downtown offices, not in the suburbs.
“Citizens have come to depend on federal services downtown,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “We want to make sure they stay in downtown.”
Rick Thielen, the city’s manager of downtown development, said federal officials reacted favorably to that request.
“They heard it loud and clear,” Mr. Thielen said. “They made the commitment to stay downtown as long as they found suitable space.”
Mr. Thielen said federal officials have begun to identify potential downtown space for employees but have not identified the sites.
To tear down the building, the city must own it. To do that, Toledo is working out a swap with the federal government that would give the city the federal building to tear down in exchange for land near the federal courthouse on Spielbusch Avenue to be used for judicial office space, Mr. Theilen said.
Miss Kaptur said she would like to see the federal building torn down and replaced with green space and bikeways along the river. She said other Midwest cities have prospered through correct management of their waterfronts.
“The treatment of the lakefront is the reason Chicago remains populated as a city today,” she said.
While employees may find short-term office space downtown, the federal government’s long-term plan is to create a plaza of offices on the Civic Center Mall, Miss Kaptur said.
“It should be something beautiful, a gateway to the city,” she said. “We should hope to win a design award in Architectural Digest.”
The 180,000-square-foot federal building was built in 1962 at a cost of $5 million. Seven stories tall, it houses offices for about 20 federal agencies and 300 employees.
In August, federal officials decided against a renovation plan priced in 1995 at $12 million.
Changes in the real estate market made leasing space down town more attractive, they said, opening the door for a city demolition.
The decision to vacate the building does not affect the post office on Summit Street. Post office land is handled through a separate federal agency, Miss Kaptur said, and negotiations are continuing.