Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Business owners brace for MLK Bridge closure

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    Noelle Gleason creates a pastry tray at Michael's Bakery. Martin Luther King Bridge will be closed for 45 days, impacting business on Main St. in Toledo.

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    Reggie Leister packs CDs at Friendly Beaver Records on Main St. Martin Luther King Bridge will be closed for 45 days, impacting business on Main St. in Toledo.

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    Martin Luther King Bridge will be closed for 45 days, impacting business on Main St. in Toledo.

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    Martin Luther King, Jr. bridge, facing toward Main St. in Toledo, will be closed for 45 days.

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    Construction on Martin Luther King, Jr. bridge, facing toward Cherry St. in Toledo.

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    Martin Luther King Bridge will be closed for 45 days, impacting business on Main St. in Toledo.

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    Rick Pawloski makes baked brie at Michael's Bakery.

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    Alexis Smoot, left, waits on Michael's Bakery customer Jim Hock.

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They’ve been through this before.

The venerable Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge has been partially or completely closed to traffic so often over the past 25 years that East Toledo business owners almost laugh at the number of times their bottom lines have been affected.

They agree the bridge’s upcoming 45-day closure on Sept. 24 — while yes, indeed, another hardship to power through — won’t likely faze them as much as some closures that have lasted months or even a year or longer, mostly because their customers appear to be getting numb to such inconveniences and learning alternative routes.

“First, we hope it’s just 45 days,” said Mike Armstrong, owner of Michael’s Cafe & Bakery at Main and Front streets. “It’ll hurt our over-the-counter sales somewhat, but that’s just part of business. You have to go with the ebb and flow. You can’t cry over spilled milk on this one.”

WATCH: Record store owner tells how closure will affect business

CTY-BRIDGE15-4

Noelle Gleason creates a pastry tray at Michael's Bakery. Martin Luther King Bridge will be closed for 45 days, impacting business on Main St. in Toledo.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Likewise, Broc Curry, owner of Friendly Beaver Records and Frankie’s Inner-City on Main Street, said customers from the west side of the Maumee River have gotten used to finding alternative routes, including ones via the nearby Craig Memorial Bridge and the Anthony Wayne Bridge, commonly called the High Level Bridge.

“We’re kind of used to it. I’m not too fazed by it,” Mr. Curry said.

Extensive bridgework was one of the reasons restaurateur Tom Cousino was forced in January, 2011, to close down his once-popular Navy Bistro in International Park, the first and for a long time one of the flagship restaurants in the block of restaurants there known as The Docks.

Mike Gibbons, president and chief executive officer of Ann Arbor-based Mainstreet Ventures Inc., said the city’s decision to hold off on the latest bridgework until this fall will really help the two restaurants his group owns and operates at The Docks, Real Seafood and Zia’s. Mainstreet Ventures also owns the newly opened Chop House in downtown Toledo, and Ciao! in Sylvania.

The original plan was to begin the latest bridgework May 14, and have it completed by the Fourth of July.

“We were very concerned about it when they talked about closing it during the summer, which is peak season for us,” Mr. Gibbons said. “But we've been through this before. The city has to do what it has to do.”

East Toledo business owners also agree technology will help soften the blow this time.

Social media allows them to better direct travelers to their locations, as do GPS devices and mobile apps — although Mr. Gibbons pointed out those don’t always tell drivers about bridge closures. But he said the city of Toledo has “always been pretty good” about putting up enough signage to redirect drivers.

Dan Steingraber, president of real estate appraiser Steingraber & Associates, said hidden costs to East Toledo businesses include an unknown number of people who’ll opt for more convenient stores and restaurants, even if they’re capable of finding alternative routes and maneuvering through traffic congestion.

“It's not only the ability to get there, it's the difficulty in getting there. Ease of entry can play a part in it. If you've got to weave your way through traffic, you’ll often go somewhere else,” Mr. Steingraber said.

The MLK Bridge, formerly known as the Cherry Street Bridge, opened to traffic in 1914.

But it’s not being closed this time for any structural repairs. It’s being taken out of service to help the city build a better sewage network.

An 84-inch pipeline needs to be connected with a sewer storage basin beneath International Park capable of holding 5.2 million gallons of waste.

The work is part of the Toledo Waterways Initiative. The initiative is the largest expansion of the sewage network in the city’s history, designed to reduce sewage overflows. It is the result of a federal consent decree the city reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency years ago to resolve Clean Water Act violations.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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