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Gordie Howe Bridge could spur development in NW Ohio

The Gordie Howe International Bridge is still a few years away from completion, but developers and officials in northwest Ohio are starting to position themselves to take advantage.

Construction began in 2018 on the bridge that will connect Detroit with Windsor, Ont., and is aiming to be operational by 2024. Canada is the United States’ largest trade partner, and according to state data, Ohio sent 39 percent of its exports in 2018 to Canada — more than any other country — through Toledo.

Those figures have the attention of economic development players in northwest Ohio, including Brian McMahon, who runs Danberry National Ltd., a commercial real estate firm in Perrysburg.

“Companies like Home Depot and Amazon have endorsed northwest Ohio, and now the developers are coming,” Mr. McMahon said. “There are more national developers in our market than I’ve ever seen before. The dynamic is changing, and I think some are here because they’re becoming more aware of the bridge.”

The bridge is a massive undertaking that will cost $4.4 billion to build and then maintain for the first 30 years. Once complete, the 1.5-mile bridge will one of the five longest in North America.

There will be three lanes traveling each direction, and the project comes with new ports of entry on both sides of the Detroit River. The vast ports will each have inbound and outbound inspection facilities, and will be among the largest on the continent.

The project is seen as a significant upgrade from the aging Ambassador Bridge, about a mile up the river, which has fewer lanes and spills out into congested streets on both sides. The Gordie Howe Bridge will have highway-to-highway connections.

In recent years, northwest Ohio has become prime real estate for logistics and manufacturing companies looking to take advantage of the region’s geographical assets.

Amazon opened a 640,000 square-foot fulfillment center last month in Rossford, and construction continues on a delivery station in Toledo at the former Southwyck site. This week it was revealed United Parcel Service is building a new facility in Troy Township bringing 600 jobs.

Wood County is also home to FedEx and Walgreens distribution centers. A bit further south, Best Buy, Lowe’s, and Kohl’s have similar centers in the Findlay area.

The intersection of I-75 and I-80/90 is a big reason the region is on the map for major developers and companies. Mr. McMahon calls this area the “gateway to the bridge.”

“The best location is northwest Ohio and especially Wood County because of its connectivity with interstates and rail,” he said. “Distribution, ecommerce, and now people are looking to build the next generation of electric vehicles in our market. A lot of auto parts in Ohio come from Canada and this really becomes a whole new economic development opportunity for northwest Ohio.”

Wood County figures to be in a better position than Toledo to land prospective development due to having more available land. Toledo’s exits along I-75 are nearly full, but exits at Wales and Buck roads and Crossroads Boulevard in Wood County have room to build.

It’s a challenge even Toledo Economic Development Commissioner Brandon Sehlhorst acknowledges. However, many sites in Wood County are located inside joint economic development districts with Toledo, meaning the city gets a portion of the tax revenue generated by the business.

Arrangements differ, but many are set up in exchange for the city providing services like water and other utilities.

The Crossroads in Rossford, home to Amazon, Bass Pro Shops, and the Harmon Business Park, falls inside a JEDD that takes up much of southern Rossford. Agreements also exist in four parts of Perrysburg, and in Perrysburg and Troy townships.

“A JEDD is a good example of how we can all work together to create these sites and get them the infrastructure they need,” Mr. Sehlhorst said. “The financial benefit to the city is significant. This is revenue we otherwise would not receive if we didn’t work with these other municipalities. It benefits everyone in the region and lessens risk.”

Toledo may not have the same amount of available land, but that’s not stopping the city from trying to land projects. Mr. Sehlhorst said the new bridge is part of presentations to prospective companies.

He also said the bridge’s timeline works out well with various improvement projects locally.

Tim Brown, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ president, also picked up on that theme, mentioning the DiSalle Bridge project over the Maumee River to be completed by 2024. Mr. Brown has given presentations on the new bridge in Detroit to area economic development folks, most recently in October.

“The primary component is the easiest way to get anywhere in the U.S. is to head south from Detroit on 75,” Mr. Brown said. “Michigan is working on their sections of 75 too, so [this area] is prime for distribution for any logistics or freight companies. We have a lot of undeveloped land and existing warehouse facilities that can accommodate trade between the two countries.”

Mr. Brown said one of the last pieces to the puzzle for the region is establishing unfettered highway access to Columbus. Toledo is the only major metropolitan area in the state without, as evidenced by the 44 traffic lights on U.S. 23 between Delaware and the Columbus Outer Belt, I-270.

Mr. Brown said Gov. Mike DeWine has shown heavy interest in the idea and a $1 million study is being done to weigh options. Findings will be announced in February.

“It will take time, but it’s one big component that is a cousin to the Gordie Howe in that it’s the last remaining piece we need to reach not just the interior of the state, but also points east and south,” Mr. Brown said. “This is a component of that which strengthens northwest Ohio’s position as a crossroads.”

Amidst any optimism, there are bound to be skeptics. John Taylor, department chair and professor of supply chain management at Detroit’s Wayne State University, isn’t sure the new bridge will provide as much of a slam dunk as others.

Truck and car volume never fully recovered after 9/11, something Mr. Taylor said could be a concern.

“There is plenty of capacity on existing bridges,” Mr. Taylor said. “So it’s hard to understand, other than a psychological reason, why this would lead to more trade or traffic. A lot of the truck traffic has gone away and there aren’t new programs going into Canada.”

However, Mr. McMahon is confident the economic development wave is still growing locally. He said large companies are looking to build fast, and Wood County’s business-friendly approach and history of streamlining could result in success.

“By the time you pick a site, build it, staff it, you certainly want to be here in advance of the bridge and not after,” he said. “After what happened with Amazon, Duke Realty got an introduction into how beneficial it can be to work in jurisdictions where they are treated well and get approvals and incentives quickly. National developers notice these things.

“For the first time in my life northwest Ohio will be the more favored location for economic development. We were always the understudy to Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. That won’t be the case now because we are closer to that bridge and have the connectivity.”


Posted By: The Toledo Blade on December 12, 2020.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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