A Hot Mess at the Mott

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

We have a natural tendency to remember what we should forget and forget what we should remember.
Mark Batterson

THE PLACE WAS ABUZZ when I entered the crowded meeting room at the Mott Branch Library. The excitement continued as the young female architect from The Collaborative began her presentation. Moments later, however, after a side-eyed question from the audience about the project’s funding, the meeting quickly went sideways.

For the next two hours, the meeting became another typical community bitch fest about who would benefit from a $25,000 grant and Dorr Street’s former glory and how it was stolen from the Black community by the white establishment.

How did a $25,000 grant from General Motors to the City of Toledo put the Black community in such an uproar, echoing even in the far reaches of City Hall and becoming the talk of the town?

The back story:

General Motors advertised a small, $25,000 grant available to the 81 certified GM communities in the United States. The City of Toledo applied at the 11th hour, writing the grant on a minimal scope to explore development possibilities on three pieces of City-owned property near Dorr Street and Detroit Avenue.

Toledo was successfully awarded the grant, City Council approved it, and the Plan Commission hired The Collaborative to do a visioning study for the Historic Dorr Street but limited to the three aforementioned City-owned properties. The City arranged a community engagement meeting to view some of the ideas The Collaborative came up with, see what the community thought about them, and then do a final refined drawing.

Unfortunately, instead of a healthy community meeting presentation for the Historic Dorr Street Visioning Study, we had a hot mess at the Mott.

Here are a few takeaways from several attendees and suggestions on revitalizing Historic Dorr Street, the Black community’s former pride and joy, as other ethnic groups and minorities have previously done in Toledo.

Let the vision determine the budget and not the budget determine the vision.

The first hurdle to a healthy meeting came from city planners’ representatives. Clearly, the presenter made “assumptions” about the Black community when suggesting “pop-up” businesses in temporary buildings, which did not go over well.

“You have to be careful about how we present things to our people. You don’t present a plan and then ask for ideas. That’s backward. ” Councilwoman Cerssandra McPherson told me, “you first ask for ideas and then prepare a plan.

“To do otherwise is to give the impression that they didn’t even take the time to find out what we want; you want to just give us something and say pick one. That was insulting,” added McPherson.

Tina Butts was also quick to weigh in. “What they should’ve done was talk to people before that, such as people that now have businesses. They should have had the beautiful young Toledo woman who does cupcakes on those screens. They should have written her name out there and had her and a couple of other black businesses standing in front of it. Then it would’ve hit home.

“I didn’t know what I was walking into. All we knew was supposed to be about Black businesses, so the community and the people were not prepared. The planners didn’t sit at the table with the people to find a design we were looking for or needed. It would be beautiful to have different Black businesses in the presentation.”

What Do the People Want?

Others echoed Tina’s sentiments. For many, Dorr Street means the potential of having a serious economic hub rather than small popups.

“I would love to see it as a serious hub for Black business, the same way we can look at some of the South Side,” said Brother Washington Muhammed, who also attended. “If we travel down Broadway, it would look like our Latino brothers and sisters are holding it down. At one point, if we rode down Lagrange, it would look like the Polish Village is holding it down. So, there needs to be a serious commitment to reclaim and restore our own community.

Doris Greer spent 37 ½ years employed at TPS and has resided in the neighborhood since the mid-1940s. She had this to say regarding her vision for Dorr Street:

“When the question came up about the pop-up units and the presenter commented about it’s expensive now to build brick and mortar, I said to her, ‘The brick and mortar represents permanency and pop-ups represent less sense of security and long-term, and this community has been long term and in the future. We should reestablish ourselves as long-term and committed to community and city.”

Greer also wants to tie in the various Dorr Street projects, such as Robert Smith’s arts and cultural project connected with others, including support for fresh foods and groceries. “Why should we have to keep going out to Kroger 10 miles away to get groceries? The bank? We’d like to see that sense of everything we need operating within ourselves.”

The Paralysis of Analysis:

However, Councilman Hobbs was frustrated by the ordeal. “The only thing I wish would’ve happened is that I just hate that every time we come together and Dorr Street is mentioned in any way, it’s a two-hour event of everybody saying the same thing the last person said that the person before them said. I wish we could change that because we have to start somewhere trying to do something, or we will continue to have buildings like Mott Branch taken from us because we can’t ever come together on a plan.”

Indeed, anytime the talk of revitalizing Dorr Street occurs, passion will surely tag along.

Greer adds, “Still, what I was so encouraged by in the meeting was that people said ‘I just heard about it,’ yet they came anyhow. I got up and spoke when I did because I sensed a sense of anger. I didn’t want that to blow up into anger when people weren’t talking, listening, communicating, and continuing the dialogue. Take your frustration and put it to something positive so that all this can work out to the benefit of everyone in the room, and that’s why I got up when I did because I felt I could do that. I especially felt good about the people who responded when the young man said, ‘Don’t forget the youth.’ Oh my God, I could’ve got up and shouted.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

Perhaps rehashing the tragic loss of Dorr Street is cathartic. If so, it is something we should never forget. In any event, we have forgotten something about Dorr Street that we should have remembered.

An exceptional Dorr Street Revitalization Plan from 2009 is already in existence and part of the City’s Plan but has never been acted upon. It is for Dorr Street as a gateway project into downtown, just as the gateway constructed in South Toledo. It states:

“The Dorr/Detroit intersection serves as a central focal point for the surrounding neighborhoods and should offer a retail mix that meets the needs of those residents. The center section should have the feel of a traditional downtown for the east side of Toledo, creating a sense of peace, place, and community pride. The intersection has the potential to be an entertainment hub. In addition to the entertainment venues, like a potential theatre, comedy club, or bowling alley, this could serve as a center for the local music industry, similar to Music Row in Nashville. This intersection can be used to connect several diverse neighborhoods between downtown Toledo and the University of Toledo.”

In addition, the gateway for South Toledo was funded by the annual district improvement dollars; each district council member receives 1/6 of a $750,000 pot. My math figures are that Councilwoman Vanice Williams and Councilman John Hobbs III each have (or will have) $125,000 to implement the existing plan.

In addition to those easily accessible funds, some grace is needed to say okay, “There was good intent but a poorly executed process. So let’s try again because we all want a good and respectful outcome. There’s willingness all around to revisit and to get it right.“

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD at drdlperryman@enterofhopebaptist.org