Mayor says city would help lure Cruiser expansion; Automaker assured of ‘appropriate assistance’

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said he is willing to provide “any appropriate assistance” to make Toledo the home of the PT Cruiser, DaimlerChrysler’s hot new retro vehicle.

“I don’t want DaimlerChrysler to feel bashful about asking the state of Ohio and the city of Toledo for assistance if they are considering us for a new line” of vehicles, the mayor said yesterday.

Sources familiar with the automaker’s planning process last week said that Toledo’s Jeep plants are among those being considered as an assembly site for the Cruiser, which has been in unexpectedly high demand since its introduction.

The Jeep Parkway plant is considered Toledo’s most likely site for a new line, but Mr. Finkbeiner said the Cruiser could be built in an expansion of the new Stickney Avenue plant.

Friday, a DaimlerChrysler spokesman refused to say whether Toledo is being considered. “We are looking at the market and demand for the vehicle and evaluating whether we need to add more production,” spokesman Trevor Hale said. “No decision has been made.”

The PT Cruiser, once a futuristic concept car, has been a surprise success since its introduction. Its neo-1930s styling has proven popular with consumers. More than 32,000 of the vehicles have been sold through July.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he sent a letter to Robert Eaton, then DaimlerChrysler’s co-chairman, almost a year ago, asking him to consider putting a third line of vehicles in Toledo.

Most Cherokees and Wranglers made worldwide are already assembled in Toledo. The Cherokee is nearing the end of its life cycle and is expected to be replaced with a new vehicle next year.

Earlier this summer, the mayor followed up with a letter to James Holden, the president of DaimlerChrysler’s American arm. “I wanted to remind him that we had stepped up and executed on time and that Toledo would be a perfect fit for either the PT Cruiser or the Varsity,” a four-wheel drive “urban adventure vehicle” introduced as a concept car at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Not long after, Bruce Baumhower, president of United Auto Workers Local 12, informed the mayor that the old Jeep Parkway plant was being studied for possible reuse for the PT Cruiser.

“Every other day, Bruce and I were talking about the possibility,” the mayor said.

Last week, at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Mr. Finkbeiner met four times with Frank Fountain, DaimlerChrysler’s senior vice president for government affairs. There, Mr. Finkbeiner said he made sure the automaker understood that Toledo is ready to back a deal to bring the new vehicle here.

“We are prepared to do that which is appropriate and prudent to bring this line to Toledo, Ohio,” the mayor said.

If the PT Cruiser does come to Toledo, it would not be the first time Mr. Finkbeiner has offered significant incentives to the automaker.

In 1997, when the then Chrysler Corp. was considering moving its Jeep operations outside Toledo, city and state leaders assembled a $278 million financial incentive package designed to keep Jeep. It included $98 million in state tax credits, $87 million in local property tax breaks, and more than $75 million in out-of-pocket costs to the city and state.

In exchange, the automaker agreed to make a $1.2 billion investment in their local manufacturing facilities, expanding the Stickney plant and modernizing the Jeep Parkway factory, parts of which date to World War I.

Mr. Finkbeiner was criticized by some, including presidential candidate Ralph Nader, for giving DaimlerChrysler too many incentives.

The city’s commitment should help its cause with the PT Cruiser, Mr. Finkbeiner said. “They’ve seen that we can get things done,” he said. “We’re prepared to be as assertive as we were before.”

The mayor said he does not know how seriously other potential sites are being considered, or how big an investment it would take from DaimlerChrysler to bring the new line here. He said Mr. Baumhauer estimated that the PT Cruiser could bring with it 600 to 800 new jobs.

Port leader might get raise; Board is to discuss James Hartung’s salary tomorrow

By Joshua Benton and Michael D. Sallah
Blade Staff Writers

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The president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority wants a raise.

Port board members will discuss an approximately $7,000 increase in salary for James Hartung at its regular meeting tomorrow.

While several board members say Mr. Hartung deserves more than the $129,960 he is paid now, others are pledging a fight.

“The timing is very, very poor,” board member Jerry Chabler said. “I’m not even in favor of discussing a raise right now.”

Mr. Hartung has led the port authority six years, and his compensation has been the focus of public attention before.

In December, 1998, after voters rejected the renewal of a port authority levy, Mr. Hartung agreed to freeze his salary for a year and pay for more of his own expenses, including a membership at the Inverness Club.

“I’m not insensitive to the public’s concerns,” Mr. Hartung said yesterday. “I care very much. I also know how hard I work and the amount of time I put into my job. I’m not asking for something extraordinary.”

Mr. Hartung is asking for a raise of 5.2 to 6 per cent, which he says would cover increases in the cost of living since his last raise in May, 1998. He has at least one prominent supporter in G. Ray Medlin, Jr., the port board’s chairman. “I think Jim should get a raise,” he said, adding that Mr. Hartung’s voluntary wage freeze and other concessions weigh in his favor.

Several other board members said Mr. Hartung deserves a raise, though he is paid more than every local and state elected official in Ohio.

“I think the scope of his duties more than warrants a wage increase,” said board member Daniel Smith. “I think he’s an excellent president. I think when you compare him with other people in our area, I think he’s certainly deserving.”

Mr. Hartung was hired in 1994 at a starting salary of $100,000. As president, he oversees an agency that runs two airports, a seaport, and is the lead economic development agency for northwest Ohio.

Since his hiring, his salary has grown regularly. In 1995, his pay was boosted to $104,000, along with a $7,500 cash bonus. His salary rose to $110,000 in 1996 and $120,000 in 1997.

Mr. Hartung received his most recent raise in 1998 to bring his salary to $129,960. At the same time, he was granted a three-year employment contract that automatically renews itself annually.

But later that year he agreed to the salary freeze and agreed to pay his own country club fees and his wife’s expenses when she travels with him. He said he “knew we were under fire” at the time because of news reports about the agency’s spending practices, and felt it was in the agency’s best interests that he cap his own pay.

Some board members, like Mr. Chabler, believe that the cap should stay on because the port authority is not performing well enough to give Mr. Hartung a raise. He pointed to a draft report released earlier this month by a consulting firm hired to produce a strategic plan for the agency.

The report, produced by Booz Allen & Hamilton, states that Toledo Express Airport ranked last of eight similar airports in passenger growth over the last 10 years. The airport does not generate enough revenue to cover its expenses.

Mr. Chabler said he met with Mr. Hartung over lunch a month ago to talk about the raise. Mr. Chabler said he indicated at the time that if the raise was to be more than a cost-of-living increase, “I would have problems with it, and most of the board members would have concerns about it.”

With the negative information in the Booz Allen report, Mr. Chabler said he has reservations “even about a cost-of-living increase.

“With those problems, the timing is very poor to talk about a raise for the president,” he said.

Several board members said the airport’s performance will be discussed as part of discussions about Mr. Hartung’s raise.

One other potential problem, Mr. Chabler said, is that the port is involved in contract negotiations with about 25 of its maintenance workers at Toledo Express Airport, who are represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers Local 2351.

Several board members said a raise for Mr. Hartung could send the wrong message to negotiators and make it more difficult to come to an acceptable conclusion to contract talks.

“In view of the fact that labor negotiations are ongoing, I think they ought to table it now,” board member George Ballas said. “Ray, of all people – in light of his background – should know this.”

Mr. Medlin is a former official with various levels of the carpenters union.

Mr. Medlin said a delay would be transparent and would do no good. “There’s no sense for us to wait and fool the public or fool the airport workers,” he said.

“Our contracts and wages are in keeping with other port authorities our size.”

Mr. Ballas did say, however, that talk of a raise would be appropriate after labor talks conclude. “I don’t think Jim is overpaid,” he said. “I think he’s doing a good job.”

J. Patrick Nicholson, the port board’s vice chairman, said he believes it is “premature” to discuss a raise for Mr. Hartung before the final Booz Allen report is completed, which should be in a few weeks.

The final report, he said, is expected to include information on how the port authority’s salaries compare with those at similar agencies across the country. It also is supposed to include an overall evaluation of the effectiveness of the port’s staff.

“Measuring the performance of the staff is the only way we can measure the performance of the president,” he said. “My own judgment is that we need that information before we get into raises.”

If the report shows local salaries are not above average and that the staff has performed well, Mr. Nicholson said he would be “amenable to some kind of a raise. I think Jim works his heart out.”

Mark Zyndorf, who chairs the port board’s finance committee, said he was unaware of the salary discussions. “I know, in the past, the last raise he received when Jim Poure was [port board] chairman, it was pretty controversial as far as the timing,” Mr. Zyndorf said. “A few of us didn’t think it was appropriate.”

He said any new talk of a raise would mean he “would have to give some time to review and study it and see if it’s appropriate.”

Thomas Palmer, another board member, said the method for evaluating employees like Mr. Hartung is open to improvement, and making those changes could push back the proper time for evaluation of a raise.

“My own view is that Jim has been a very able performer and has been an asset for the port,” he said. “I would expect that we would find that a raise is appropriate for him.”

Board members James F. White, Jr., and David Boston said they didn’t have enough information on the proposed raise to comment. Other board members could not be reached for comment.

The port board will discuss the raise in a closed meeting. Mr. Medlin said the matter then would be go to the human resources committee, which he chairs.

A final vote could be taken at next month’s full board meeting.

“I’m the chairman, but that doesn’t mean the board members are going to agree with me,” Mr. Medlin said. “I can’t tell them what to do. This is an issue that will be taken up by the full board.”

Finkbeiner to port: Don’t aid Rossford

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wants to make sure that the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority doesn’t get involved in efforts to revive the Rossford arena-amphitheater project.

“I’m certainly going to stand in the way of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority even entertaining any thought of it,” he said. “It’s not their job to bail out projects outside the county of Lucas that may not have been as well thought out as they should have been in the first place.”

The mayor’s comments were made soon after the port board’s newest member, Thomas Schlachter, advocated some form of assistance for the Rossford project, with other port officials saying they would be willing to consider the idea.

G. Ray Medlin, Jr., the port board chairman, said he has not been approached about assisting Rossford but added that he has “always been an advocate for regional cooperation.”

For almost a decade, officials in Rossford have been planning the development of the Crossroads of America, the area south of I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike.

Last year, Mayor Mark Zuchowski announced the centerpiece of the development: a hockey arena and an amphitheater. Officials set up the Rossford Arena Amphitheater Authority to build the structures, and construction began last summer. Retail, hotel, and other developments would surround the complex.

But the arena authority has had trouble finding the funding necessary to construct the $48 million project. Construction was stopped in November when temporary financing ran out, and officials have been struggling to find a way to jump-start the project since.

Mr. Schlachter, a local developer, said this week the port authority should look into ways to assist the Rossford project. On Thursday, the Lucas County commissioners named Mr. Schlachter the newest member of the port board.

“I’m impressed with the potential of the Crossroads concept, and I hate to see anything in the area fail because it’s a black eye for the entire region,” Mr. Schlachter said.

The port authority can provide low-interest loans to development projects in the region through the Northwest Ohio Bond Fund. The authority has arranged financing deals for such major projects as the downtown headquarters of Owens-Corning and Manor Care.

Mr. Schlachter said he doesn’t yet have any specific plans for the port’s involvement in the Rossford arena project, and he hasn’t spoken with any other port board members about the subject. But some local officials seemed cautiously interested in the idea.

Mr. Medlin said that he had not been aware of Mr. Schlachter’s comments, but said they were worth considering.

“With Tom’s background in development, I should pay attention when he says something like that,” he said. “If he’s got some ideas, I think we should hear them out. It might behoove Lucas County, Wood County, the Regional Growth Partnership, and the port authority to listen.”

He said that no one has approached him about a port authority role in the Rossford project.

He quickly added that if the issue was raised, he would remove himself from all discussion and all votes because of his conflict of interest. Mr. Medlin is business development manager for The Lathrop Co., the Maumee-based contractor that is managing construction of the arena and amphitheater.

Mr. Finkbeiner opposes any assistance to the Rossford project, in part because it could provide competition for the Toledo Sports Arena and its major tenant, the Toledo Storm hockey team.

But Mr. Medlin said that, if it succeeds, the Rossford deal would be beneficial to all of northwest Ohio. “There are some people who would see the success of a project like that as a threat to their own economic well-being, and that’s very selfish,” Mr. Medlin said.

Mark Zyndorf, a member of the port board’s finance committee, said that port assistance to the Rossford project should be considered like any other. He said the port authority gets much of its funding through the fees it charges for bond issues and other financing services for projects outside Lucas County.

But Mr. Zyndorf said he doubts that the Rossford project would qualify for port authority assistance because of its lack of financial backing. “My guess is that it would lack the credit enhancement or guarantees we’d need to qualify,” he said.

James Hartung, the port authority’s president, would “neither confirm nor deny” that the authority is in talks with Rossford officials. He said it is a long-standing port authority policy to keep potential financing deals confidential. He did say that the Rossford site is “a wonderful location.”

“We believe that Toledo and Lucas County can best be served through the development and growth of the entire region,” he said. “We know that our focus is Lucas County, but our broader mission sends us beyond the political boundaries.”

Mr. Finkbeiner’s response: “Balderdash. The taxpayers of Lucas County and the city of Toledo expect the port board’s focus to be upon the county of Lucas and the city of Toledo. The port authority should not be bailing out projects in other jurisdictions.”

He said that because Rossford officials did not initially ask for assistance from the port authority, they should not expect any now that the project has hit hard times.

Mayor Zuchowski said recently that he hopes to “regionalize” the funding of the arena-amphitheater.

Lucas County commissioners Sandy Isenberg and Harry Barlos said that Mr. Schlachter never shared his views on the Rossford project while he was under consideration for appointment.

Ms. Isenberg said the idea should be looked at, “but I’m not advocating it.”

If the port authority is involved, financing could be arranged so that Lucas County would share with Wood County in tax revenues from the project, she added. “And Wood County itself has to look at this project. It’s in their back yard.”

Mr. Barlos echoed the statements of many local leaders, like Mr. Medlin, who have called for greater regional cooperation in economic development. But he said that the mechanisms of cooperation should be worked out before Rossford is assisted.

“I would look first at regionalizing the [port] authority,” Mr. Barlos said, “without closing the door on the idea of assistance” to Rossford.

Mr. Barlos said that the time may be coming to hold a “summit” between the various counties involved in the port authority to explore the issue of regionalization. “No one wants to see a project fail in any one of our neighbors,” he said. “Our prosperity depends on our neighbors.”

Aside from his involvement with Lathrop, Mr. Medlin has another tie to the Rossford project. He sat on the board of the Rossford Economic Growth Corporation, which did some of the planning for the arena project. His position on the board was based on his affiliation with the Northwest Ohio District Council of Carpenters, which has loaned $2.4 million to the Rossford project.

Mr. Medlin is the former executive director of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters health and safety fund.

Port board member Jim White, Jr., said he has heard of the idea and could not comment on it until “I know what kind of support they are talking about.”

Board member G. Opie Rollison said he could not comment because his law firm, Cooper, Walinski, and Cramer, represents the Rossford Transportation Improvement District, which is building the roads for the Crossroads project.

Other board members, along with Rossford officials, could not be reached for comment.

Don Jakeway, the president of the Regional Growth Partnership, which does economic development work in conjunction with the port authority, said no one had asked his organization to help Rossford. “The financial structuring seems to be where they’re having the most trouble, and I’m not sure we could really offer anything in that area,” he said.

Blade staff writer Brian Nearing contributed to this report.

Rossford arena-amphitheater project has troubled past, and no future in sight

By Joshua Benton and Brian Nearing
Blade Staff Writers

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In the last couple of weeks at the Blossom Music Center near Cleveland, you could have pogo-sticked under the stars to the B-52s or moshed to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

At the Polaris Amphitheater in Columbus, you could have wigged out to the rootsy sounds of Phish or grooved to Sting.

And at the Pine Knob Music Theater north of Detroit, there were shows by Canadian rockers the Tragically Hip and country star Clint Black.

But on the site of the proposed Rossford amphitheater, where the country’s top name acts were also supposed to be playing this summer, there’s little more than a few steel beams, a construction trailer, and mounds and mounds of dirt.

Sixteen months ago, Rossford Mayor Mark Zuchowski announced his $48 million dream: a hockey arena and adjoining concert amphitheater to be located near the intersection of I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike. The arena-amphitheater project, he said, will push the so-called “Golden Triangle” area into the economic stratosphere, making it a destination site for miles around.

But today, more than a month after the amphitheater was supposed to hold its first concert, the project remains primarily on paper.

Financial analysts have told officials the deal is too risky, and local taxpayers have been reluctant to put their own money into the project.

While officials struggle to find one last way to save the millions already invested in the project – including the possibility of selling the entire complex – those who have given money are becoming increasingly interested in making sure their money hasn’t just been wasted.

Just two days ago, Perrysburg Township officials met with other project investors to find a way to keep their contribution to the complex from disappearing. But no agreement was reached, and if the project falls into more trouble, at least $5 million in township money could be gone.

“Our table is getting a little bare for the township,” said Nathan Hagemeister, a Perrysburg Township trustee and a member of the Rossford Arena Amphitheater Authority board. “We want to help avoid the collapse of this project.”

From the start, the arena-amphitheater project was handled by a small group of people.

It started in 1994, with the creation of the Rossford Economic Growth Corporation, a private group formed by the city of Rossford to develop the Golden Triangle, the area south of the two interstates whose access to highways had made it a sought after area for development.

In a 1995 memo to a potential tenant, Mr. Zuchowski called the growth corporation “a shadow organization [that] has been quietly and efficiently arranging options on a large assemblage of this land.”

The corporation’s board members included representatives from some of the area’s heaviest hitters in development: Toledo Edison, Lathrop Co., SSOE, Inc., and the Northwest Ohio District Council of Carpenters.

The growth corporation considered a variety of plans for the area, including an outdoors retail center and a gambling parlor. But over time, they came to focus on an arena and an amphitheater.

Purchase options were assembled on the land starting in June, 1997, according to corporation records supplied to The Blade. One of the first to option land was township Trustee William Miller, who signed options July 21, 1997, and Oct. 9, 1997.

Under the option agreements, the growth corporation had to purchase the land within two years, or the sellers could keep the option payments. Records supplied by the growth corporation do not indicate how much was spent on options.

Township residents have questioned at public meetings whether Mr. Miller was engaged in a conflict of interest because he stands to profit from anticipated land sales in that area, which they now call the “Crossroads of America.”

Last month at a township meeting, he acknowledged to an audience member that he had sold a portion of his land for $600,000.

Linda Holmes, Wood County assistant prosecutor, who attended a Perrysburg Township meeting last month when the issue was raised, said Thursday that she cannot investigate until she gets a written request from the township.

Mr. Miller has said he has no conflict, since he did not vote when the township decided to buy the bonds from the Rossford Transportation Improvement District, which undertook construction of the roads serving the area. Mr. Miller was a holder of TID bonds. But he did vote to loan $5 million to the arena authority to get construction going.

“I have heard this fact and that fact. There are some people who feel that something is wrong,” Mrs. Holmes said. “We certainly thought that we would be asked to investigate.”

The clock was ticking on those land options when, on Feb. 23, 1999, Rossford city officials created the Rossford Arena Amphitheater Authority to finance and run the project.

Just four days later, plans for the $48 million arena and amphitheater complex were announced. Ed Reiter, chairman of Mid-Am Bank, said the project should be able to attract necessary financing, likely at a 6.5 percent interest rate.

Things moved quickly. A month after the authority was created, it approved a deal with the Detroit Red Wings, owned by the Ilitch family, to bring the hockey club’s farm team there, and with Olympic Entertainment, also owned by the Ilitches, to run the complex.

The arena authority announced plans to issue $48 million in bonds by May of last year. Excavation work on the site began May 19, 1999, with temporary financing in the form of a $2.4 million loan from the Northwest Ohio District Council of Carpenters and, later, $5 million from the township.

Several members of the growth corporation board began to bring business to their companies.

For example, growth corporation President Dick Lee is vice president for business development at Lathrop, the Toledo construction company that got the project’s no-bid construction management contract.

Another growth corporation member, David Shapiro, is a vice president at SSOE Inc., an architectural design firm in Toledo hired to do design work.

Mr. Reiter, vice president of the growth corporation, is chairman of MidAm Bank, which is the growth corporation’s depository bank. In addition, MidAm invested in bonds issued by the Rossford Transportation Improvement District, which spent $6.8 million to build a road and water and sewer lines around the project.

Toledo Edison agreed to loan the growth corporation up to $2 million, using some of its property as collateral. In exchange, Toledo Edison got exclusive right to supply power to the development.

Toledo Edison is getting repaid by the growth corporation, utility spokesman Richard Wilkins said Friday.

“The most recent payment was $500,000…made within the last month or so,” he said. “We are getting repaid as expected.”

Mr. Wilkins said that Toledo Edison gets involved in a wide variety of economic development projects in the area, and that the Rossford project is just one of many.

He said that the growth corporation is using money it has made from selling land to developers interested in putting up businesses near the project.

Mr. Lee and Mr. Shapiro did not return telephone calls from The Blade.

Mr. Reiter declined comment through a spokeswoman. “He doesn’t think commenting would be in the best interests of the bank,” said spokeswoman Darlene Minnik.

In early fall of last year, the authority announced it was buying 127 acres of land that had been optioned by the growth corporation. But the authority was already running low on cash. Of the original $7.4 million it had from the carpenters’ union and Perrysburg Township, only about $2 million was left by Oct. 5, according to Mr. Zuchowski.

After Lathrop Co. filed a lien against the project for not being paid for at least some of its work, the arena authority agreed in early October to give Lathrop a mortgage against the property.

The carpenters’ union later that month offered to put up $2.2 million loan for the project, money that would be used to help buy 55 acres of land near the arena site, but that deal never closed. A call to the union for comment was not returned.

All of the temporary loans were supposed to be paid off as soon as the project got permanent financing through a bond issue. But that never happened.

It turned out Mr. Reiter’s prediction of a 6.5 per cent interest rate was far too low. The bond rating firm Standard & Poor’s gave the project a less-than-perfect rating, which meant the project was forced to deal with a double-digit interest rate. (At the arena authority’s request, Standard & Poor’s will not release its financial analysis of the project.)

With interest rates that high, the project was not doable because the arena and amphitheater wouldn’t generate enough money to pay off the debt each year. Rossford officials tried to get more backing for the project to make it more attractive, but with little success.

On Nov. 23, 1999, construction stopped because there was no money to pay for it. Work was roughly 20 per cent complete. The project has been idle since.

Phil Dombey, Perrysburg Township’s counsel, said a month later that the township faces a worst-case loss of between $10 million and $15 million.

The arena authority’s bond underwriting firm, Stifel Nicolaus and Co. of St. Louis, whose job it was to convince Standard & Poors to give the project a good rating, and hence a lower interest rate, was fired sometime before early December. Company representatives did not return a call for comment last week.

The last investor to come to the table, after serious questions had been raised about the project’s finances, was a Detroit-based corporation called Carpenters Success. It loaned the arena authority $1.7 at 9.75 per cent on March 10, 2000, about four months after construction had stopped for lack of money.

The money was loaned so the authority could buy 55 nearby acres that later would be sold to developers who want to put businesses there.

At the time, Rossford officials said that Carpenters Success was affiliated with the carpenters’ union in Detroit. And on Friday, Vince Langevin, the arena authority’s treasurer and Rossford administrator, described Carpenters Success as “a Detroit version of the carpenters union.”

Asked to explain what the group was, Mr. Langevin responded: “I don’t know, I think it’s a pension fund. It’s the name of a pension fund. I don’t know.”

But Mike Davis, chairman of the investment committee of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and business representative for a Detroit Carpenters Local 687, said Thursday he had never heard of the group. “We are not invested in the Rossford project,” Mr. Davis said.

When told of Mr. Davis’s comments, Mr. Langevin said he didn’t know the names of any of the group’s leaders or backers. He said he knew the name of the group’s lawyer, but refused to say who that was.

“It’s not relevant,” he said. “I don’t think it’s important.”

Mr. Zuchowski, the Rossford mayor and president of the arena authority, said he didn’t know the details of who was behind Carpenters Success, but he said he believed it was a joint effort of northwest Ohio’s and Detroit’s carpenters unions. “It’s just a corporation that was founded to help us out and get the project done,” he said. “I don’t know their business as much as they do, but they have funds available to invest in projects like this.”

Robert Bernius, a spokesman for the Northwest Ohio District Carpenters, did not return a telephone call seeking comment on the issue.

According to records from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, Carpenters Success was incorporated on March 9 – the day before its loan to the arena authority. It was incorporated by C. David Bargamian, a Detroit lawyer.

On Friday, Mr. Bargamian said he was merely the group’s attorney and did not want to reveal who he works for. “I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to comment on my client’s business,” he said

He said he would ask his clients if they wanted to reveal themselves and contact The Blade. As of yesterday, they had not.

But Carpenters Success’s role in the arena project didn’t stop with its March loan. It is currently in negotiations that will determine whether Perrysburg Township will risk losing all of the $5 million it loaned to the arena authority last year.

It’s a complicated situation, but one that could leave township taxpayers financially hurt by more troubles in Rossford.

In 1998, the township purchased $4.6 million worth of bond anticipation notes from the Rossford Transportation Improvement District, which used the money to build a 1.7-mile road from S.R. 795 to U.S. 20/23 through the Golden Triangle and install water and sewer lines. A bond anticipation note is short-term financing used as a bridge until a long-term bond is sold.

When the arena project backers needed to find temporary financing to start construction last year, a deal was struck between Perrysburg Township and MidAm Bank. The bank agreed to purchase the $4.6 million in TID bonds so the township could then use the money to loan $5 million to the arena authority.

But when MidAm signed the deal, it made the township agree to buy the bonds back at the same cost this summer. In essence, the bank agreed to loan the township $4.6 million, interest-free, for one year.

Had the arena authority’s financing plan worked as officials had hoped, the township would have been repaid for its loan to the authority, and it then would have had the money to buy back the bonds from the bank.

But because the arena’s financing has never materialized, the township has been forced to scramble for cash. On Monday, trustees voted 2-0 to sell $4.6 million worth of its certificates of deposit to buy back the note and avoid paying $800 a day in interest on the loan. Mr. Miller abstained; Mr. Hagemeister and trustee Richard Britten okayed the move.

This was not the first time the township had taken over a local bank’s obligation to the project. Last month, it came up with $1.3 million to buy out Fifth Third Bank’s share of the transportation district’s note. The TID was about to miss a payment on the note and the township bought it from the bank to keep the project from defaulting.

The TID has had trouble collecting the property assessments charged to landowners in the district to pay for the roadway and water and sewer improvements.

Several landowners have sued over the size of the assessments.

On Friday, one woman sued after being assessed more than $280,000 for her property, which she contends is landlocked and not touched by any of the roadways in the development.

In any event, the loan the township made to the arena authority is not secured.

If the authority were to declare bankruptcy or otherwise collapse, the township would risk losing its entire $5 million investment, Mr. Hagemeister said.

Other investors in the project have mortgage security. Those investors – including Lathrop, Toledo Edison parent First Energy Corp., and Carpenters Success – will be able to claim ownership of the land and any other assets if the authority defaults.

Township trustees have been trying to find a way to secure their millions. The latest plan: give the township a mortgage on the 55 acres of land purchased in March. The mortgage would be for $5.2 million: the principle plus $200,000 in missed interest payments. That would mean that the property, purchased a few months ago for $1.7 million, would be mortgaged for significantly more than its assessed value.

But Carpenters Success already has a mortgage on the land, and would have to approve a second mortgage holder, Rossford law director Keith Wilkowski said.

On Friday, Mr. Hagemeister met with representatives of Carpenters Success and Mr. Wilkowski to iron out a deal to be presented to township trustees at their meeting tomorrow.

“If we can’t get this, we’re back to square one,” Mr. Hagemeister said before the meeting Friday.

Afterward, Mr. Wilkowski said no deal had been reached and that negotiations could take another month. Mr. Wilkowski repeated that Carpenters Success is a joint Ohio-Michigan union effort, but refused to give any details. He said that Carpenters Success was represented at the meeting by an unidentified lawyer, not one of the principals or Mr. Bargamian.

Mr. Hagemeister did not return phone calls after the meeting.

Earlier this year, officials considered something that was never before an option – building only the amphitheater and putting off the arena until later.

The new plan by Seasongood and Mayer, a Cincinnati bond counsel hired by the authority last year after they fired their original counsel, would be accomplished through a smaller bond issue of only $10 million to $15 million.

And instead of being backed by the project’s own revenues – which could be influenced by market conditions – it would be backed by Rossford and Perrysburg Township.

If the project couldn’t pay off the debt, the two governments would guarantee to make up the difference, a deal that would make the bonds much more attractive to investors and allow them to be sold at a lower interest rate. Once the amphitheater was built, officials would then turn their attention to an arena.

After a year of financial troubles, this was viewed by some as a last-ditch bailout plan. At a March meeting of township trustees, Andrew Brossart of Seasongood and Mayer told trustees: “This is the last way we can figure on how to finance this.”

The proposal promised a financial position for the project. While a new arena would provide a year-round venue, it would face a long established competitor in the Toledo Sports Arena, whose major tenant, the Toledo Storm, would fight for public attention with the Red Wings affiliate, the bond counsel reasoned.

In contrast, an amphitheater would have no competitor nearer than Pine Knob. And thanks to their low cost of maintenance, amphitheaters are generally much more profitable than arenas.

According to an Arthur Andersen analysis of the proposed Rossford complex, the amphitheater would produce more than $2.7 million in revenues in its fifth year, against only $287,000 in expenses. In contrast, the arena would produce almost $4.7 million in revenues, but against almost $2.8 million in costs.

But some residents of Rossford and the township were outraged at the idea of spending tax money on the arena. The township residents felt their trustees had invested enough in the project already, given the fact the investment was unsecured. City residents said they believed they had been deceived – Mr. Zuchowski had assured them repeatedly that no local tax dollars would be used.

“It is misleading for anyone to say that the amphitheater/arena project uses City of Rossford tax dollars,” city officials wrote last year in a “Special Notice to the Citizens of Rossford.” “The amphitheater/arena project will pay for itself – using future tax revenues from the project itself to pay for the bonds,” the notice assured.

Dozens of angry residents showed up at meetings of the city council and the township trustees, calling taxpayers “sitting ducks” about to be taken by a bad deal.

The plan to use tax money to back the bonds died after township trustees rejected it. “Everyone was opposed to that,” Mr. Hagemeister said. “We were opposed to putting any more Perrysburg Township money into the project.”

Now, much of the optimism of a year ago is gone. Mr. Langevin said he wouldn’t venture a timetable for when a new deal might be announced. “We’re just still trying to put the whole bundle together,” he said.

At Monday’s arena authority meeting, there was even some discussion of selling the project off to a private group. “We have been contacted by several parties who have said they would buy one or the other [facility] or both,” Mr. Langevin said later. “Our comment was everything is for sale if the price is right.”

Mr. Langevin said that if everyone who has invested money in the project “can be made whole, that’s the selling price.”

Meanwhile, waiting for some sort of resolution of the situation is the Ilitch family.

Led by Mike Ilitch, who founded the Little Caesars pizza chain and owns the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, the family is slated to play a major part in the Rossford deal. Aside from their commitment to bring a minor league hockey team to the arena, one of their companies, Olympia Entertainment, has signed a deal to manage both the arena and the amphitheater.

Under the deal originally signed, the Ilitch companies stood to make millions, including portions of all food sales, suite license fees, and naming rights fees.

In addition, the original deal included significant financial penalties for the authority if an arena was not ready to start hosting hockey by November of 2000. Those penalties were to compensate the Red Wings for most of their costs. Over the course of a season, that could total $3 million.

Rossford officials said in January that the deal with the Red Wings was being renegotiated to improve the penalty agreement.

Mr. Langevin said the penalties had been eliminated entirely. “They are very supportive,” he said. “They’ve said that whatever we need, they’d help on. Except for giving us $47 million, of course.”

Representatives of the Red Wings and Olympia could not be reached for interviews, but Mark Corey, group vice president for Olympia, issued a statement through a spokeswoman.

“We were not aware it’s for sale, but we are keeping the lines of communication open with the city,” he said. “We are aware that they are searching for financing alternatives and are hopeful that they will be successful.”

So are Rossford officials, who haven’t given up hope. They acknowledge that things haven’t gone the way they planned.

“I’ve certainly learned a lot from this,” Mr. Zuchowski, the Rossford mayor, said. “A lot of things were prematurely announced, and it didn’t happen. We weren’t able to get the financing together.”

He said that the pressure to have an arena open for this winter’s hockey season forced Rossford to rush into things and move too quickly.

“That’s the mistake we made, letting the deadline dictate how we do things,” he said.

Some things, he said, were done out of the proper sequence: “We shouldn’t have started construction until we got financing.”

Mr. Zuchowski hopes that Wood County or the state of Ohio might be convinced to contribute backing for the project, although the county commissioners have publicly indicated they do not intend to risk their excellent bond rating or reserves on the project. He said the project needs to be “regionalized” and draw upon the resources of something bigger than his small city and the township.

The mayor said that getting Rossford and township taxpayers to back the issue with their own money is still possible.

Meanwhile, development at Crossroads of America is continuing, with construction already under way on a shopping center. More retail development is in the works, along with long-term plans for a movie theater complex and hotels.

“The ironic part of this is that the arena and amphitheater were supposed to be the magnets to draw development,” Mr. Langevin said. “But the development is coming anyway.”

Mr. Zuchowski said Rossford has learned its lessons.

“We’re making a more disciplined effort at putting baby steps together,” the mayor said.”We’ve got nothing to report at this time. We’re still trying, still working hard, and hopefully we’ll be able to announce something soon.”

Zoo celebrates and stretches attractions, area; Changes, additions, expansion slated to continue through 2005

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A1

The Toledo Zoo has educated, entertained, and charmed generations of children since its founding in 1900.

It has established itself as one of Toledo’s two or three premier cultural institutions and one of the country’s top zoos.

The zoo this year opened Arctic Encounter, an $11.5 million exhibit for polar bears and seals that is the largest in the zoo’s 100-year history. The exhibit, on 4.2 acres, is highlighted by underwater swimming pools with large viewing areas that have attracted thousands of visitors as well as the attention of other zoos nationwide.

But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“There’s never been a period in our history when we’ve expanded as much physically as what we’ve got planned for the next few years,” said Doug Porter, the zoo’s assistant director.

Arctic Encounter is just the first stage of an expansion that, starting in the fall, will mean nearly nonstop construction at the zoo through at least 2004, Mr. Porter said.

The next addition will occur in 2002, when a wolf exhibit is scheduled to open.

Zoo officials are trying to figure out how to set up a compatible living environment, but the space will feature native plantings, gravel pits, a pool, and the stars of the show: two or three wolves.

It will be adjacent to the Arctic exhibit and about equal in size to the polar bear and seal exhibits put together.

But it won’t be able to fit too many animals because of the large area that wolves typically cover. “It’s not like it’s big enough for a herd of bison,” Mr. Porter said.

He hopes the wolves will be a success, as a similar exhibit was for Cleveland’s zoo several years ago. “People can relate easily to wolves, because they’re in the dog family, and people can identify them with their own pets,” he said.

The zoo will take pains to emphasize to visitors the differences between standard dogs and wolves, fearing that a successful exhibit might cause some Toledoans to buy wolf-dog hybrids as pets. “We’ll have to discourage people from doing that,” Mr. Porter said.

Construction on the exhibit, which should cost roughly $1 million to build, is scheduled to begin in the fall.

Not long after the wolves debut, work will begin on the next, even bigger stage: a 14-acre African grasslands exhibit.

For regular zoo goers, that may seem like a misprint: There is already an African savanna exhibit, which is home to giraffes, impala, and other African animals. But this new exhibit will be several times larger and will be able to hold many more animals.

(Despite the fact that savannas are by definition grasslands, the zoo is calling the new exhibit “African grasslands” and the old exhibit “African savanna” to eliminate confusion.)

The current exhibit can hold only two giraffes, and when they produce an offspring, it has to be shipped off to another zoo or facility immediately. But the grasslands, which will be built south of the wolves’ exhibit, will be able to hold four adult giraffes, along with several offspring, Mr. Porter said.

It also could hold 15 impala and many more hoofed animals than the smaller exhibit.

While it is still being designed, Mr. Porter said it’s clear it will be a “big project” and a major investment: $10 million and 18 months of construction.

To be built on the site of the former zoo parking lot, the grasslands are scheduled to open in 2004.

Both the wolf and grasslands exhibits are made possible by the zoo’s expansion across the Anthony Wayne Trail. Most of the funding for that expansion – including the construction of the pedestrian bridge across the road – comes from a capital levy passed in 1995 that will raise about $53 million.

The total expansion, including privately raised money, is expected to cost more than $66 million.

The growth – from a 35-acre site to 60 acres – presents challenges to the zoo, which has always been known for its tightly organized, intimate setting.

“We’re moving away from that sort of a small, visitor-friendly size, and we’ll have to fight a perception, even though we’re still not very big,” Mr. Porter said.

While the two big additions will take up a lot of the zoo staff’s energy over the next few years, there will be several smaller improvements and additions.

Next year, expect a bird show in the zoo’s amphitheater, possibly featuring everything from birds of prey to cranes and roadrunners. “We’re able to train birds now so they are completely free-flighted,” meaning they don’t have to be restricted by cages or netting, Mr. Porter said.

There will be some kind of new exhibit in the zoo’s museum in about two years, and there could also be an expansion in the aquarium. The current African savanna site will be reconfigured, perhaps with room for more elephants or rhinos. “It’s continual change,” he said.

And beyond 2005?

The current capital levy will expire at the end of that year, so zoo officials are reluctant to plan beyond that date with no assurance that there will be money to pay for the plans.

But William Dennler, zoo director, said expansion of the aquarium will be the big push after 2005, when a large tank between 100,000 and 150,000 gallons will be built. In addition there will be several smaller ones, but still three times bigger than the current main tank.

Mr. Porter said the most difficult thing to predict about the future of the zoo is how the presentation and environments of the animals will change. In the Toledo Zoo’s early years, it was common to keep animals in cages so small that today they’d be considered inhumane.

Today, the Toledo Zoo is one of only a few zoos nationwide to employ a full-time animal-behavior manager to ensure that the zoo’s environments are conducive to their personalities. Animals are now trained to present certain body parts or move in a certain way to make them easier to treat medically. It’s a far cry from the crammed cages of old.

“Who knows how that will change in another hundred years?” he asked.

Art council’s Aguilar asked to lead CitiFest

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 18

CitiFest officials have made an offer to the woman they want to be the organization’s next executive director.

After a board meeting yesterday, the organization asked Jan Aguilar, the executive director of the Performing Arts Council of Toledo, to take over the organization, a nonprofit group that plans public events like the summertime Rallies by the River.

“The offer was made this afternoon,” Lisa Silverman, interim CitiFest administrator, said.

Through an assistant at the arts council, Ms. Aguilar refused to comment on the offer.

If she accepts the job, she would replace Terri Marshall, who resigned in February after holding the post for less than a year.

As director of the arts council, Ms. Aguilar plans one of the city’s largest public events, the annual First Night Toledo celebration on New Year’s Eve.

Ms. Aguilar was one of two finalists for the position, along with Shelley Crossley, events coordinator for United Health Services. Ms. Crossley plans the annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off and Taste of Toledo. The finalists interviewed with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner on Tuesday before the mayor left for his trip to Japan.

CitiFest has had a tumultuous last few months. In January, the organization had its liquor permit revoked after some of its volunteers were caught selling beer to underage drinkers last summer.

It had serious financial problems until the city agreed last month to give it $450,000 over three years in exchange for four seats on CitiFest’s board.

Ms. Silverman, who is helping to run CitiFest until a permanent executive director is hired, said the organization hoped to get a response to the offer by tomorrow.

Council opposes liquor permits; City to change stance if conditions improve

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Toledo council followed through on its threats and last night asked state authorities not to renew the liquor licenses of two East Toledo bars that attracted police attention more than 100 times in 1999.

But council members were quick to add that they will reverse themselves if the bars can shape up in the next few months.

“I consider this to be probation,” council President Peter Ujvagi said to Robert Croak, who operates The Main Event and Club 128 on Main Street. “We’re a long way from where we need to be, but things are going in the right direction.”

Toledo police asked council to take the action, which seeks to have the state Liquor Control Division hold hearings on whether the bars’ liquor licenses should be renewed.

At a four-hour hearing Monday, police said the bars are centers for underage drinking, drug abuse, and disorderly conduct. In 1999, police answered 93 calls to the Main Event and 35 to Club 128. Neighborhood residents had a litany of complaints, from loud noise to public urination.

By a 12-0 vote, council agreed to request the state liquor hearings. But Mr. Ujvagi said that Mr. Croak has made large strides in addressing the problems and said that he is willing to withdraw the request if the improvements continue.

“A great deal of progress has been made in the last few months, and if more is done, I’ll sponsor the resolution myself” to withdraw the request, Mr. Ujvagi said.

Mr. Croak said he is happy to work with council to make improvements. He said he has increased parking lot security, added outdoor toilet facilities, and taken other steps to make the two bars more acceptable to neighbors.

“I understand the concerns, and I want to work with council to make the changes we need,” he said.

Mr. Ujvagi said one of the biggest remaining changes he will require is increased training of bar employees to help stop underage drinking. Mr. Croak said the training sessions will begin soon.

Council considered a similar resolution for a third establishment, Toledo Live, at 23 North Summit St., which was the target of police action. But council voted to send that resolution back to the administration after it learned the bar has been closed for six months and that its owner has no plans to reopen it.

In other action, council:

* Approved a new collective bargaining agreement with the Toledo Police Command Officers Association.

The pact gives TPCOA members pay raises of 2, 3, and 4 per cent over the next three years and raises the city’s contributions to the employees’ pension by 1 per cent. The changes are the same as those negotiated with the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association.

As part of the agreement, the city will require annual fitness examinations for all command officers. It allows for four sergeant positions in administrative sections to be filled with civilian supervisors, freeing up officers for street duty.

The command officers’ union represents about 145 deputy chiefs, captains, lieutenants, and sergeants. It has ratified the agreement.

* Passed the city’s annual capital improvements budget, which details more than $99 million in spending in 2000 on projects ranging from street repaving to park improvements.

This year’s budget is the first since 1996 not to include any payments toward the Jeep project, which has taken a total of $4.8 million from the capital improvement budgets of the last three years.

* Discussed changes in the proposed living-wage law that is expected to be put before council next month. The task force proposing the law, led by Councilman Louis Escobar, met yesterday morning to make several minor changes in the proposal, including extending an exemption to seasonal employees.

The task force will meet again May 3 to adopt a final version of the proposal, Mr. Escobar said, with council probably voting on it May 23. Mr. Escobar said council likely will have to make the final decision on how small a company will have to be to be exempt from the legislation.

‘Vision’ creators doubt goals will be realized anytime soon

By Joshua Benton and Vanessa Gezari
Blade Staff Writers

Page 6

City and University of Toledo officials presented their abstract vision for Toledo’s future yesterday, a dreamy image of efficient robots and healthy children, a bustling economy and an artistic renaissance.

But leaders acknowledged that they have no plans to make their vision a reality.

“No one in this room will live to see this vision actually come to fruition,” UT Provost Henry Moon told an audience at the Erie Street Market. “We won’t make it that far.”

The ideal, entitled Vision 2000, is less a plan than a projection of what life might be like in northwest Ohio 25 years from now. It is the product of the Toledo Millennium Partnership, an informal collaboration begun in April between the city and the university to plan Toledo’s future.

But Dr. Moon and Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said they want the 10-page document they’ve produced to become a centerpiece of public discussion and political debate.

In the coming months, Mr. Finkbeiner and Dr. Moon will make presentations to various community groups on the concept, including a town-hall discussion March 29 at the university. The mayor hopes that 3,000 Toledoans will learn about their ideas between all the presentations and meetings.

“We wanted to paint the vision of hope for the region,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.

But some area leaders questioned the value of the document, considering it is simply the vision of a few volunteers, without specifics or money to pay for implementation.

“I think it’s much more idealistic than realistic,” said Sandy Isenberg, president of the Lucas County commissioners and a contributor to the report. “It’s a wonderful American dream – the perfect city. But then reality sets in, and somebody has to pay for it. You can talk about all this other stuff, [but]show me the money, because it’s going to take a lot. I wish them the best if they get it done.”

The report divides its vision into six areas: business and industry; education and learning; the arts and culture; globalization; health and quality of life; and government organization. Each section was written by a separate committee of between six and 12 volunteers chosen last spring by the mayor and Dr. Moon. Each committee has met several times over the last year to detail their visions.

The sections vary widely in content and style. The business and industry section simply presents six specific goals for attainment, while the education section is written as if the author were living in the year 2025 after Toledo has become a world-renowned “dynamic community of learners.”

The document’s recommendations range from increasing adult learning to making Toledo more competitive in a global economy. It suggests the creation of an arts district on Monroe Street between downtown and the Toledo Museum of Art.

Some of the jargon-laced language is so vague that it might be difficult to determine if the vision is ever achieved. For example, one section says, “The city of Toledo will become a healthy community through broad-based involvement in an evolving process that is always changing, yet is always directed at improving the quality of life for its citizens.”

But without a firm plan to make the various visions reality, some people involved in their creation aren’t sure it will be useful.

Bob Savage, Jr., the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commissions member who led one of the committees, said that he questions the value of Vision 2000 on its own.

“Our group expressed some reluctance with just figuring out what things are supposed to look like 10 or 20 years from now,” Mr. Savage said. “Obviously, you could have the best vision in the world, but someone needs to spend some time figuring out how to get it done.”

Mr. Savage criticized the commitment of some of the volunteers who were supposed to work on the project. He said that, of the approximately 20 people who were supposed to be on his committee, only eight attended a single meeting.

Ms. Isenberg, who was on Vision 2000’s globalization committee, said the vision’s creators have good motives.

“I thought that they were very dedicated people, very interested,” she said. “My greater concern is [that] once this is all put together and everybody says, ‘Yeah, that’s great,’ that it isn’t just put on a shelf.”

She said not enough resources may be available to achieve the goals laid out in the document.

While they don’t have a plan to make their vision reality, Dr. Moon and Mr. Finkbeiner did say how they want to keep their document in the public eye.

Dr. Moon said he wants area media and civic groups like the League of Women Voters to demand that candidates for public office talk about where they stand on the sometimes vague ideas presented in Vision 2000. “We want to make this into a campaign issue for elections for mayor and city council,” he said.

That political commitment is important, Dr. Moon said, because only later generations will be able to enact the vision they’ve set forward. “People who want to run for office will have to pay attention to our agenda, not their own,” Dr. Moon said. “We see the role of our successors as implementing these dreams.”

Dr. Moon said that, while the group will seek public input on the document they’ve created, the vision it puts forth will not change, even if citizens present good suggestions. “It’s done,” he said.

While there was no formal public input in the creation of the document, Dr. Moon said that he took into account suggestions he had heard in his work on the Toledo 20/20 Comprehensive Plan, a two-year study that will revise the city’s comprehensive land-use plan for the next 20 years.

But Toledo city council members said they are concerned that the new vision might conflict with 20/20, which has cost the city $275,000 to assemble and which has involved public input at more than a dozen meetings.

“It would be a major tragedy if [Vision 2000] and 20/20, which had thousands of people involved in it and a six-figure cost, if these things were to develop on different tracks,” Council President Peter Ujvagi said.

But Steve Herwat, executive director of the plan commissions, said he is not concerned that the vision will contradict the comprehensive plan.

“I see it as being complementary to the 20/20 plan,” he said. “We focused on land use. The Millennium Partnership, they made a special effort to concentrate on other issues. The best thing that comes out of the Millennium Partnership is it forges a stronger bond between the city and the university.”

The final 20/20 plan is expected to be submitted to council by late March or early April, Mr. Herwat said.

But Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz said citizens who participated in the 20/20 process still might feel left out by the city-university vision.

“My worry is that citizens are going to react with suspicion [because] no one asked for their input, and the politicians swooped in and made a decision,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “For any of this project to work, we have to have the involvement of the citizens. It only means something if the people believe in it.”

Mark V’Soske, president of the Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce and chair of one of the committees, said he was instructed to focus on “a vision of the future, not necessarily how to implement that vision.” He said he hopes the document “can spark something in someone in the community into doing something good for Toledo they wouldn’t have otherwise done.”

The mayor said that while the vision may not persuade skeptics, it will be compelling for those who are open to it.

“If you believe in hope and you believe in opportunity … this document offers hope and opportunity,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “Of course, it’s just a vision.” But he added: “The only thing that will stop the vision from becoming a reality is a lack of industry and commitment on our part.”

The group invited more than 100 people to participate in the project, according to Joseph LaCava, one of the project’s coordinators. But fewer than 60 people ended up participating, most of them city or university employees.

The low level of participation led to some unusual absences on several committees. For example, the committee analyzing the area’s economic future had no labor representatives. The education and learning committee included no representatives from the Toledo Public Schools or Toledo Federation of Teachers, and the health committee had no one from either ProMedica or Mercy Health Systems, who between them own most of the area’s health-care facilities.

Merrill Grant, the superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, said that the education committee should have included someone who works in K-12 education. Instead, the committee included people whose work does not involve education, like city utilities director Don Moline, farmworker president Baldemar Velasquez, and Toledo Journal editor Myron Stewart.

Dr. Grant said that the education committee’s report fits in well with the efforts of Toledo schools. “The vision for the educated city complements the goals TPS has been working on for the past four years,” he said. “The overhaul has already begun.”

Blade staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this article.

Downtown decay being reversed by flurry of commercial development

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A3 (Focus edition)

If you want to understand Toledo’s downtown renaissance, just stand at the corner of Adams and Superior streets.

Picture an intersection of only five years ago, with a symbol of urban decay on each corner: a Macy’s department store that had been empty for more than a decade; the backside of a long-shuttered playhouse known as the Valentine Theatre; a rundown former Woolworth building, and a vacant former flower shop.

On some nights, you could have stood on the corner for hours and not seen a single human being. If you looked east down Adams Street, you would have seen the empty shell of the Portside Festival Marketplace.

All that has changed now.

The Macy’s has become the LaSalle Apartments, a 130-unit high-rise that has been full since it opened. The Valentine underwent a $28 million renovation that has made it a cornerstone of downtown life since it reopened in October.

The owner of the building housing the former flower shop has begun a $1.1 million renovation and plans to turn it into a food court and office space. And just last month, the new owner of the former Woolworth building announced a deal to bring a Doc Watson’s restaurant and bar to the building.

In 1997, Portside became COSI Toledo, the popular children’s science museum, which celebrated its 1 millionth visitor in December.

In the last few years, most of the big action around Toledo has been downtown.

People who a few years ago wouldn’t have thought of going downtown are suddenly finding reasons to, whether it’s catching an opera at the Valentine or visiting friends at the LaSalle.

Downtown was hit hard by the woes of the 1980s. Key businesses like Sheller-Globe Corp., Questor Corp., and First Federal Savings & Loan left downtown. Business parks like Arrowhead Park in Maumee attracted the smaller businesses that decades earlier might have taken an office in the central business district.

Following the lead of cities like Cleveland and Indianapolis, Toledo has been busy remaking downtown into an entertainment and housing spot, particularly for young singles.

This year promises to see even more positive developments downtown. The biggest is expected this fall, when construction is scheduled to begin on a new baseball stadium for the Toledo Mud Hens. The new ballpark will move the team from suburban Maumee to the Warehouse District and, local leaders hope, pump more energy into downtown.

Much of the attention in recent years has focused on the downtown riverfront. The federal office building on Summit Street is scheduled to be razed later this year. The empty space it leaves may become an extension of Promenade Park, site of summer’s popular Rally By The River series.

Government workers getting booted out of the federal building have had to find office space elsewhere downtown, helping lower the city’s high office building vacancy rate.

Next to Promenade Park, the old Edison steam plant will see renovations this spring to turn it into an entertainment complex. The Wisconsin developers who have taken on the project hope to bring in a bookstore, a sports bar, and several restaurants.

Those restaurants could be the mirror image of a development across the Maumee River in East Toledo. The Docks, located in International Park, has become one of Toledo’s busiest spots at night, with two restaurants, a wine bar, and a banquet facility. They’ll be joined in the next few months by two more restaurants and a brewpub.

While most of the diners at downtown restaurants are people from the suburbs, an increasing number are people living downtown. The LaSalle’s opening started the growth of downtown as a residential neighborhood. Last year, the former Commodore Perry Hotel and Hillcrest Hotel – both long empty – were also converted into apartments, and the Toledo Trust building will soon become the Riverside Apartments.

Put the pieces together – entertainment from the Valentine and Mud Hens, dining from the new restaurants, shopping from new retail, and residents from the apartment buildings – and you might just have the solution.

Local groups eye ban on circus animal acts

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A8

No lions or tigers or bears?

Oh, my!

As Seattle prepares to become the first major American city to ban circus animal acts, local animal-rights groups hope to fight a similar battle here.

“I want to start talking to people to see if we can get a law like that in Toledo,” said Mike Nestor, president of Toledo Area People for Animal Rights.

Seattle Mayor Paul Schell has proposed an ordinance that would ban animal acts in any circus that comes to the city. The legislation has at least five supporters on the nine-member council and is expected to pass soon. The law would ban everything from large three-ring affairs to the tiniest flea circus.

Stopping circus acts, along with fur and medical research, has been one of the major issues of American animal activists. In pamphlets distributed at circuses and on the Internet, they describe horrible tales of animals confined to tiny cages for days on end and of animals being beaten savagely to do tricks.

The largest and most famous circus, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, has been the major opponent of the Seattle ordinance, saying that it will cancel all of its performances in the city and those of its sister show, Walt Disney’s World on Ice.

But smaller circuses defend their profession just as vehemently, arguing that animal acts bring joy to millions and are not cruel.

“That ban is ill-conceived and just part of the animal-rights agenda,” said David Rawls, president of the Kelly Miller Circus based in Hugo, Okla. Kelly Miller performs in northwest Ohio most summers, including shows in Bowling Green and Wauseon in 1999.

Mr. Rawls said that because of the enormous expense of many animals – an Asian elephant costs $100,000 – circuses do not treat them poorly. “They’re as well cared for as anyone’s pet,” he said.

“Now, there are some exceptions to the rule, just as with pet owners. But the vast majority are very well treated. We name them after members of our families and our loved ones, and that tells you how important they are to us.”

Circuses face regular inspections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as local animal welfare inspectors in the cities in which they perform.

The attacks on circuses are occurring as their traditional role seems to be waning. Throughout much of the century, circuses were one of the few sources of entertainment in small towns across America. For weeks, some people anticipated the coming of the big top. The circus’ itinerant lifestyle loomed large in a largely rooted American culture.

But now, with an endless variety of entertainment sources available and higher costs for putting on a big show, circuses are vulnerable.

According to the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, no cities in Ohio or Michigan have banned circus animal acts. But local animal-rights groups, including Mr. Nestor’s, have protested outside of almost all Toledo circus performances in recent years.

If it bans the acts, Seattle will become the first major American city to do so, but several smaller cities, including Takoma Park, Md.; Hollywood, Fla., and Collinsville, Ill., have passed bans. So have hundreds of cities in other countries.

Mr. Nestor said that getting a similar ban passed in Toledo or Lucas County will be difficult for the next several years, but he wants to try.

Doug Porter, the assistant director of the Toledo Zoo, said he would support a ban on circus animal performances in Toledo because standards of animal cruelty have changed in recent decades. “I think there are some wonderful circuses and circus acts, and I would not like to see circuses banned,” he said, “but I think they can do without the lions in cages with whips and chairs.”

He said circus animals kept in confined spaces – as is required by the train and truck travel needed to take the show on the road – can lead animals to develop behavioral problems and turn on trainers or the audience.

Mr. Nestor said other circuses, like the successful Cirque du Soleil, have thrived without animal acts. He said larger circuses like Ringling Brothers generally have better animal-welfare records than smaller efforts.

“Ringling probably has the best reputation of them all, but they’ve still got problems,” he said. Ringling has been criticized by animal activists for a variety of alleged problems, including whippings and the use of electric prods.

But Mr. Rawls insists that circuses are protectors of their animals and that incidents of abuse are rare. He said this sort of ban is just the start of an animal-rights agenda that could lead to ending rodeos and meat-eating. “We’re just the first ones they attack,” he said. “Eventually, their agenda will reach everything involving animals.”

Cathleen Anderson, a city commissioner in Hollywood, Fla., said she is proud that her city is one of the few to ban animal acts. “We’ve been the model for other cities,” said Ms. Anderson, who was a commissioner when the law was passed about 10 years ago. “We won’t let Ringling Brothers in town, and the public has really supported the change.”

Ms. Anderson, who was the main force behind the law, said it was prompted by three small ponies that were left tethered to a post for three days and nights during a downtown street fair. “Those poor animals were suffering, and we discovered that there was nothing the law could do about it,” she said.

The animal-rights movement has been divided by the differing beliefs of its members. Some would be happy with incremental changes in the quality of life for animals, while others want the more wide-ranging changes Mr. Rawls said he fears.

“It’s barbaric what happens to some of these animals,” said Mark Whitt, a local coordinator for Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow, which he describes as “more radical” than other groups. “This goes on outside the eye of the public, but people are starting to realize what’s going on.”

“There’s a wide range of opinion,” Mr. Nestor said. “I don’t really have a problem with animals being kept in zoos, but some people disagree with me on that.”

But Mr. Porter said important differences exist in the way zoos and circuses operate. “We operate in the open, with people examining us all the time,” he said. “Circuses are private and closed off.”

Mr. Porter admits that the Toledo Zoo, as recently as the 1960s, used to force animals to perform for patrons, “things like polar bears on motorcycles.” In that era, some zoo animals were kept in fairly confined spaces.

“But the difference is that zoos have moved on from that,” Mr. Porter said. “We as a society have decided that that’s not acceptable anymore. But the circuses haven’t moved on. They’re doing things just as they’ve been doing them for 150 years.”