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Kroger decision key test of our city’s values

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    Carty Finkbeiner

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    Kroger wants to replace its store on Monroe Street in West Toledo with a larger store on nearby property owned by the Sisters of Notre Dame. The plan has been rejected by the Toledo Plan Commission.

    The Blade
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I believe life is a wonderful marathon. It is broken up, however, into innings — like innings in a baseball game. And, our lives have to score points in some key innings, if the final score is to reflect that we made wise decisions during the course of our lives. Particularly, did we score positive points in key innings when we were the batter at the plate? 

Members of Toledo City Council are the batters at the plate, in this very important inning of the city’s life. Will they hit a home run? Will they strike out?

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Carty Finkbeiner

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I can tell you, as a 10-year veteran of city council, and a 12- year resident of the corner office on the 22nd floor, the council should hit this pitch out of the park because it truly is a ‘‘no-brainer.”

Kroger is hellbent upon building or expanding upon its present property on Monroe Street so that it can compete with competition that is going to open up nearby on Secor Road. It just did this same thing in Perrysburg, where it expanded — but did not build a new Kroger — at its site on U.S. 20, just across the street from the Holiday Inn.

In fact, Kroger either expands its present sites or builds new stores very frequently in the suburbs. The company’s track record in Toledo is quite different. Kroger has closed stores on Manhattan Boulevard, on Glendale Avenue, on Woodville Road, at Swayne Field, and on Suder Avenue. Kroger will shut down at Southland Shopping Center before long, I predict. 

At the same time, Kroger has built stores on Holland-Sylvania Road in Sylvania Township, in Maumee, in Oregon, and in Waterville. In fact, the company has a track record in at least three other Ohio cities of closing urban core stores and then building stores in suburbia.

The Hicks-Hudson administration and council should take a long, hard look at the Kroger closures in our city, particularly our central city, and ask why. Why is there no Kroger store in central Toledo? There are other grocery stores serving residents of the central city on Bancroft Street near Cherry Street, on Broadway near South Avenue, on Main Street in East Toledo. I helped Kroger locate and build upon Glendale at Detroit Avenue, and Jack Ford assisted with the present Kroger store on Monroe Street. And, I can testify today that I am disappointed, as is my wife, in the lack of food options available and the lack of cleanliness at the store on Glendale and Detroit. We are not alone. It simply should be better maintained.

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Kroger wants to replace its store on Monroe Street in West Toledo with a larger store on nearby property owned by the Sisters of Notre Dame. The plan has been rejected by the Toledo Plan Commission.

The Blade
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Kroger, like most big, big companies, is more interested in volume than in quality. Visit Fresh Market at Westgate or a Monnette’s or a Churchill’s and you’ll find management going out of its way to offer a variety of options, with terrific delis and clean stores and parking lots. In fact, I visit a suburban Kroger from time to time, and there is no comparison between the appearance of those stores and the deli offerings available in the Toledo stores. There are simply more supplies and options available in a suburban Kroger.

Remember council members, you’re the batter, and the subject is “has Kroger been an investor in central Toledo and have its stores in Toledo been maintained as well as their suburban stores? After 25 years of officially keeping score myself, the answer is no!

The Notre Dame site is the single, most-attractive parcel of land in West Toledo, and Kroger wants to lay cement, after clearing beautiful landscape — years and years in the growing — and then put up a huge boxlike grocery store, when it own a property a short distance away and have several other sites available on Secor Road, as well as The Andersons store on Talmadge Road. 

If it truly cared about our city, it would rebuild on its present site just as it did in Perrysburg, or buy The Andersons property on Talmadge Road. But no, it wants to tear down and permanently ruin the most attractive site of land and historic buildings in West Toledo. And, if you approve, that site will not be available for future development that would preserve the green landscape, historic buildings, and peacefulness that exists there.

The sisters of Notre Dame — wonderful, dedicated women they are — should look at the options the Miller Diversified company, the same company that developed Arrowhead Park in Maumee, put on the table. It is real, it is equal in dollars, the community development envisioned will preserve the historic integrity of this site, while offering new housing, education, and socializing opportunities to seniors and others.

The personality of Monroe Street in the vicinity of Secor Road and out by the Franklin Park Mall, all the way to Sylvania, is commercially zoned and busy, busy, busy with cars, stop lights, and businesses. It is great for Toledo’s economy and for the merchants of this busy street. At Secor Road and Monroe Street, there is a beautiful oasis — the site of Notre Dame Academy. And, this oasis needs to remain an oasis — an interruption to the nonstop traffic, cars, and businesses. 

The Miller interest in this property is real. Every project it has been a partner in, including Arrowhead Park in Maumee, has been done with fine detail and attention to how human beings can move quietly and peacefully in their neighborhoods. 

If you were not aware, Miller and Danberry real estate company, for whom Councilman Rob Ludeman has worked for years, are preparing to merge. When they do, the merged companies will become a very real force for positive real-estate developments in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan. And, the proposal that Miller made to the Sisters of Notre Dame was for the type of balanced community living opportunities that will attract senior Toledoans to it, while preserving the natural beauty and historic properties at this site. 

Monroe Street does not need another Kroger box store decimating this outstanding piece of property.

Now, let us talk jobs — construction jobs. I understand Shaun Enright is pushing this project because of the jobs it will create. 

However, a Kroger store at this site will actually cost Toledo union workers jobs. If Kroger builds at this site, that’s it for jobs — no more. However, if Miller Diversified builds upon this site, Kroger will find another site to build on or simply expand at its present site as it has done in other areas, and you will have both the Miller construction jobs and Kroger construction jobs. 

Speaking of the building of another Kroger store, may I ask council members to have a Kroger store built in central Toledo, including downtown Toledo. Kroger continues to move its stores closer and into suburbia. And as it does, it is hiring fewer and fewer minorities. During the past 48 hours, I visited six Kroger stores — three in Toledo and three in the suburbs. I wanted to count the number of minority employees on the floor and visible at these six stores. 

I have been told that Kroger has promised to build a central Toledo store, if you give it this site. I was told that 20 years ago. No such store has been built, and since that time, five Toledo stores in the urban core of Toledo have been shuttered. Thus, I wanted to see what the employment staff looked like at six stores I just toured. 

Here are the exact numbers as these employees were front, center, and busily involved in their Kroger duties the last 48 hours: total employees — 133; Caucasian — 110; African-American — 20; Hispanic-Latino — 3.

I am told that Toledo’s minority population is 33 percent. Kroger is hiring, based on my observation, about 17 percent of its employees from the minority population — not nearly what they should be doing.

Do those of you voting on city council believe that the city of Toledo owes Kroger the benefits of this lovely piece of property that could easily remain a jewel in the middle of a very busy corridor? Or, should you be guided by a plan commission that studies these proposals with great integrity and forethought — a plan commission that has twice rejected this Kroger proposal?

And they were not aware of the promises Kroger made to Mayor Jack Ford and myself about building a central city Kroger. I doubt they studied the make-up of the Kroger work force as I did the past two days. Other than the Kroger on Monroe Street store, there were no more than two or three minorities out of 25 employees at five other stores.

Members of council, in your public lives, this is a very important inning. Twenty years from now, you can either point to a box store on cement at Monroe and Secor and ask, “why did I allow this?” Or, you can point to trees, green grass, some meaningful buildings, and a campus-like setting with people strolling about and say “isn’t this beautiful? I played a key role in preserving that beautiful piece of real estate.”

This issue is a no-brainer. City council should hold the hands of the Sisters, suggest they review the Miller proposal, or others, and send Kroger back to the drawing board. There are about a half-dozen appropriate Kroger-type parcels in the neighborhood.

And please, members of council, push for a central-city store, with a higher percentage of minority employees.

Carty Finkbeiner was Toledo’s mayor from 1994-2001 and 2006-2009.

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