Council, mayor go toe-to-toe on funds

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

The twists and turns of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s latest battle with city council reached new levels last night.

First, council overrode the mayor’s veto of some items in the city budget.

Then, the mayor announced he would ignore council’s action.

Finally, council members claimed they had found a little-known clause in the city’s charter that would force the mayor to do their bidding.

By the time the meeting was over, matters were even less clear than they had been before the meeting began.

“The mayor needs to realize that he’s not right on everything, and that other people aren’t always wrong,” council President Peter Ujvagi said.

On March 16, council passed the mayor’s proposed budget with several small changes.

The most notable: an increase in the size of this year’s police class, from the mayor’s proposed 15 officers to 30 officers.

Council members repeatedly have said that their changes amounted to less than a third of 1 per cent of the budget, and said the larger police class is necessary for the public’s safety.

A few days later, Mr. Finkbeiner vetoed the changes, calling them financially irresponsible.

Last night, in a show of unity, council voted 11-0 to overturn the mayor’s veto. Councilwoman Edna Brown was absent.

“This shows that the mayor’s scare tactics are not effective,” Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz said.

But it took only minutes for Mr. Finkbeiner to issue a statement about council’s vote, saying he would ignore it.

“Toledo city council acted just as I expected,” the statement read. “We will proceed as planned to hire 15 police officers in May.”

The city’s law director, Ed Yosses, said the law is on the mayor’s side: that he could choose simply not to spend the money council has allocated.

Several council members grudgingly accepted defeat. “The law seems to be on Carty’s side,” Councilman Peter Gerken said.

Visibly incensed by the mayor’s statement, council leaders held a series of backroom huddles before Mr. Ujvagi announced a new tactic: getting backing from the city charter.

He cited Section 140 of the charter, which states the police force shall be composed of “such officers, patrolmen, and employees as may be provided for by ordinance or resolution of the council.”

In other words, Mr. Ujvagi said, council has the power to pass an ordinance that would order the mayor to expand the police class to 30. He said council will do that at its next meeting.

“I’m very disappointed at the mayor’s approach,” he said. “I wish it did not come to this.”

Through spokesman Mary Chris Skeldon, Mr. Finkbeiner said last night that he would meet with Mr. Yosses today to determine what his response would be.

Council members said this dispute is a key test of the strong mayor form of government, which Toledo voters approved in 1992. Council members have said that Mr. Finkbeiner has tipped the balance of power too far in his direction.

“The mayor should calm down and take a deep breath,” Mr. Ujvagi said. “The council did not do anything wrong. There is nothing in the charter that says the mayor can ignore the will of council.”

Spicy backlash delivered to mayor’s pizza protest

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

Has Mayor Carty Finkbeiner been eating too much Crazy Bread?

A day after the mayor called for a boycott of Little Caesars Pizza, defenders of the little guy in the toga have fired back.

On the front lines have been the pizza places themselves. One location was offering a large ham pizza – the “Carty Special” – for only $5. Others have renamed their trademark Crazy Bread as Carty Bread, or proclaimed March 30 as Carty Appreciation Day.

Rather than stop business, the mayor’s declaration seems to have unleashed slice after slice of pro-Caesar sentiment.

“We’ve gotten more than 100 calls today from people supporting us,” said Beverly Bradshaw, who with her husband operates three Little Caesars franchises in Toledo.

In a speech Monday at the Toledo Club, Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants Toledoans to stop munching the pizzeria’s products to protest the actions of the chain’s owner, the Ilitch family of Detroit. The Ilitches are supporting construction of an arena-amphitheater complex in Rossford, a move the mayor considers a threat to Toledo venues.

Aside from provoking water-cooler talk throughout the region, the mayor’s comments pushed at least one Maumee couple to action.

Sarah Pfleghaar had been upset with Mr. Finkbeiner for a variety of reasons, from his conduct on his recent Honduras trip to his stance on ignoring voters’ wishes on building a stadium.

But his edict on edibles was the topper.

“It’s almost an abuse-of-power issue,” Mrs. Pfleghaar said. “My husband and I were incensed.”

She took action. She went to a local Little Caesars and asked for a dozen large pizza boxes. Then she went to her neighbors on John Street in Maumee and asked if they would agree to engage in an act of protest.

She put the pizza boxes on stakes and erected them, like ersatz political signs, on her neighbors’ lawns.

On the boxes was written: “Combat ignorance (Carty). Eat Little Caesars.”

“We’re at the age where we can raise hell, and nobody can do anything about it,” Mrs. Pfleghaar, 67, said. Her husband, John, is 74.

“I’m too old to burn my bra,” she added.

Offended by the mayor’s pie preference is Julie Farnsworth, who manages the city’s Navarre Pool. Ms. Farnsworth called Mr. Finkbeiner’s comments “comical.”

Five years ago, she said, Mr. Finkbeiner’s budget stopped paying for the end-of-summer party she throws for swim-class students.

“I called around to all of the pizza places in town to ask them to give us some free pizza,” she said. “For some of these kids, getting pizza is not an everyday thing.”

Only Little Caesars was willing to give the children free pizza.

“Every other place said, `We’re not interested,”‘ she said. “For Carty to rip into them is just kind of comical.”

Mr. Finkbeiner did not return phone calls seeking further pizza pronouncements.

Mayor wants Hens stadium without vote; He proposes dropping rule in charter that requires OK

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wants to build a stadium without first asking voters, and he is trying to change the city charter so those voters “who might not understand the issues” don’t stand in the way of his plans.

In a speech at the Toledo Club yesterday, Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants to repeal Section 79 of the charter. That section requires any city spending on a stadium, arena, or convention center to be approved by voters.

“I think there are times for community leaders to make a decision and move forward,” he said. “Section 79 is not what a progressive city looking to the future should have as an impediment to community leaders.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Finkbeiner has introduced plans for an ice arena and SeaGate Centre expansion downtown. He is pushing for a new Mud Hens baseball stadium downtown or on the East Toledo riverfront.

Toledo voters would have to approve the charter change. The city council would have to vote to put the issue on the ballot this November.

Some council members said the move is just a way for the mayor to shove an unpopular stadium/arena proposal down the voters’ throats.

“If spending money on a baseball stadium is such a good idea, why is the mayor afraid to put it before the voters?” asked Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz.

Mr. Finkbeiner and other stadium proponents have often said that Section 79 bans any city assistance for a stadium or arena. In his speech yesterday, the mayor repeated the claim, saying the clause “prohibits the city from aiding in the construction of a convention center, arena, or stadium.”

But Section 79 does not make such a ban. It allows the city to build stadiums or arenas but requires voters to approve the project before spending money.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that although voters regularly approve funding for the Metroparks or the Toledo Zoo, they might not approve a stadium because there is less of a direct, visible benefit.

“It is a bit more of a vision of what we would like Toledo to be,” he said. “That can be a difficult thing for the average hardworking men and women of Toledo to understand.”

Without the voters’ approval, he said, the city could be free to push for projects that are unpopular but good for the city. But several council members said they would oppose putting the issue on the ballot, saying that this was an end-run for the mayor to go against the public’s wishes. Last May, Lucas County voters strongly rejected a temporary sales tax increase that would have paid for a new baseball stadium.

“Certainly, the vote last May sent a very clear signal that the citizens do not wish to be involved in the public funding of a stadium,” said Councilman Peter Gerken.

“It sounds like he is rationalizing how to get around voters on an issue he supports that failed to get the support of voters,” Councilman Gene Zmuda said.

Without any contribution from the city, Lucas County and state money funded construction of the SeaGate Centre in the 1980s. Repealing Section 79 could mean that the city could pay part of the cost of building a Mud Hens stadium, which would reduce the cost to the county.

“It would be nice to increase the size of the pie,” said county Commissioner Harry Barlos.

The clause Mr. Finkbeiner wants to remove was passed in 1973 after lobbying from Affiliated League for Equal Representation and Taxation Alliance, a taxpayer group opposed to then-Mayor Harry Kessler’s plan to build a $6.2 million convention center. Voters had a chance to repeal the clause in 1985 but voted to keep it.

The alliance was funded in large part by Virgil Gladieux, the owner of the Toledo Sports Arena, who did not want to see the city build a competitor.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he “had not thought about” the irony that Mr. Gladieux’s son, Tim, could stand to benefit from the repeal of a charter clause his father helped enact. The younger Mr. Gladieux is pushing for the city to build an ice arena to provide a home for the minor league hockey team he owns, the Toledo Storm.

Along with the stadium restriction, Section 79 limits how much the city can spend without putting a project before the voters. That limit is pegged at 15 per cent of the average city operating expenditures for the last five years, or about $30 million.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he did not know that clause was a part of Section 79 and said he “would sit down and read it” to determine whether he wanted that clause to be repealed as well.

Mayor takes a stab at pizza; ‘Caesar’s’ teams attacked too

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

Pizza? Pizza? Not for Carty! Carty!

Little Caesar’s won’t be getting any of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s pizza business anytime soon, and he’s asking Toledoans to boycott the national chain because its owners “have shown they don’t support Toledo.”

“I’m gonna buy homemade and seasoned pizzas!” the mayor said.

The mayor, who has never before made a public statement on his pizza preference, said he’ll be eating Marco’s pizza now.

The issue slices up this way: Little Caesar’s is owned by the Ilitch family of Detroit. The Ilitches also own the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers. Last week, the Red Wings signed a deal to move the team’s top minor league affiliate to a $48 million arena complex to be built in Rossford. That suburban development threatens the future of the Toledo Sports Arena and Toledo Storm hockey team.

The mayor said he is calling for a boycott because the Ilitches’ support of the Rossford arena proves they aren’t committed to revitalizing the nation’s urban cores. “They say they understand the needs of cities, but they don’t support the talk,” the mayor said.

Little Caesar’s saw things a little differently.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Ron Bradshaw, who owns three Toledo franchises. “What a ridiculous position to take. I have absolutely no control over Mr. Ilitch. This would just punish the franchisees here, and it’s not very fair to do that to someone like me who’s been in business in Toledo for 28 years.”

Reaction from Detroit wasn’t much different.

“We have about 130 Toledo residents who are employed at our stores, and they don’t deserve to get caught in the crossfire here,” said Sue Sherbow, the company’s vice president of corporate communications. “They pay their taxes, and they’re good corporate citizens.”

Members of the Toledo city council, used to reacting to Mr. Finkbeiner’s proposals, said they’ve seen this sort of decision before.

“When it comes to Carty and the things he says, nothing surprises Toledoans,” Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz said. “The shock value has worn off; he’s done so many outrageous things.

“Boycotting Toledo pizza because of a decision made by men in Detroit and Rossford makes no sense,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

Councilman Louis Escobar compared it to leaders of some other city boycotting Jeep or Owens Corning products because Toledo lured a business away from them.

“I am amazed that, with all the game playing in city government, that the city runs at all,” he said.

Councilman Peter Gerken was more direct upon learning about the mayor’s plan: “Oh my God! I don’t think it’s the business of the city to get into pizza wars.”

“I wish Carty would think before he speaks,” Councilman Gene Zmuda said. “I just think it’s ludicrous that we’re going to boycott pizza. That burns whatever bridge we might have with the Ilitches.”

Provoking the Ilitches is an unusual strategy, considering that area leaders hope that the family will kick in the money to help build a stadium for the Toledo Mud Hens.

The stadium is one of the mayor’s favorite projects. The Mud Hens are the top farm team of the Ilitches’ Tigers.

“I would hope that once we’ve reached some decisions, the Tigers and Mr. Ilitch may be generous and contribute to the project,” Lucas County Commissioner Harry Barlos said. “But I’m not going to sit down and alienate any player in this process.”

Mr. Finkbeiner’s other complaint with the Ilitches was that they have not done a good job in providing the Tigers and Mud Hens with quality players. “The end result is neither team has a competitive team in recent years,” he said.

The top beneficiary of the mayor’s pie preference is Marco’s, the Toledo-based chain.

“I’m obviously very pleased,” said Marco’s president Pat Giammarco. “We’ve always supported Toledo.”

Mr. Giammarco described himself as a friend of the mayor. Records show he gave at least $1,500 to Mr. Finkbeiner’s 1997 re-election campaign. The chain employs about 1,200 people in the Toledo area, he said, and has more than 130 locations in three states. Mr. Giammarco added: “If we were a little bit bigger, I’d build a stadium for the city.”

Rossford officials look for additional teams at new arena

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page C1

Hockey pucks might not be the only things flying around the planned Rossford arena.

If city officials get their wish, they could be joined by soccer balls, basketballs or even the occasional football.

Arena proponents have been in talks with minor league basketball, football and soccer league officials in attempts to get another tenant for their new arena.

“It would be great to have something other than hockey to draw fans,” said Rossford Mayor Mark Zuchowski.

Rossford officials announced on Tuesday that they have reached an agreement with the Ilitch family of Detroit that will bring the Detroit Red Wings’ top minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League to the new arena in 2000.

But a hockey team fills an arena for only about 40 nights a year, plus a few preseason and playoff games. For an arena to succeed, it has to be much busier than that.

One way to fill that gap is by attracting another sport to the arena to complement hockey’s winter schedule. Rossford officials have talked with at least three leagues about expansion: the Continental Basketball Association, the National Professional Soccer League and the Arena Football League.

The leagues have expressed vary ing degrees of interest, with soccer and arena football seeming most likely.

“There’s no doubt about it in my mind, we’d definitely want Toledo in our plans,” said Steve Paxos, commissioner of the NPSL. “It’s a perfect location for what we’re doing.”

Throughout the 1990s, minor league sports have become cash cows, mostly by going into markets without major league professional sports but with a strong sports fan base. Hockey, in particular, has exploded, with new teams and leagues appearing every year – many in markets that haven’t seen snow in 20 years, much less hockey.

Owners of major league teams in many sports have started to invest in the minors, knowing they can often get a devoted fan base, high game attendance and low player salaries.

The Rossford arena, if built, will be able to attract some other events, from ice shows to concerts. But another sports team would add a large number of guaranteed dates and another reason for people to go to the arena.

Among the candidates:

* The Arena Football League, the biggest success story of “emerging sports,” is looking to create a developmental league. Arena football is played with eight players to a side, a 50-yard field, barrier walls on the sidelines and no punting. The result is a faster-paced, higher-scoring version of outdoor football, played from April to August, and appealing to a younger audience.

It’s become extremely popular in recent years, with attendance averaging well over 10,000 a game and almost 1.5 million per season. But the league has had trouble developing players, and has embarked on a plan to reach cities like Toledo with new teams.

“We want to bring football into communities where the NFL can’t reach,” said David Cooper, vice president of media relations and a native of Maumee.

The new league, to be called Arena Football 2 or AF2, would kick off next spring, with 12 to 16 teams.

Cooper said the Toledo area would be a good match for the league.

“I would be thrilled to have a team in Toledo,” he said. “I know that during the summertime kids are always looking for something to go to. It would be a complement for a city built of football fans, and maybe a fix for Ohio State fans during the summer.”

* Of all the leagues, the CBA probably features the most familiar names to sports fans. Every year, college stars who aren’t quite ready for the NBA settle for its minor league, which features nine teams across the country. The nearest to Toledo is in Fort Wayne.

The Arizona-based league is looking to expand, and has held discussions with Rossford officials. “We thought that Toledo would be an outstanding market,” commissioner Gary Hunter said. “We hear a lot of good things about it, and at first blush Toledo would make a good candidate for the CBA.”

Hunter said he hopes the league can expand to 12 to 16 teams within the next six or seven years. The league is looking at about 15 cities as potential sites, and Rossford is among them.

“We know that Toledo has a good solid program at the college level,” he said, “and we believe good basketball begets good basketball.”

* The NPSL, the country’s top indoor soccer league, is planning to start its own minor league to develop interest in the sport and provide a place for referees and players to train before reaching the big league.

The new league, named Soccer Leagues of America, could start an abbreviated schedule later this year, and plans its first full season for 2000, Paxos said. It will likely start in the Midwest with about six to eight teams, he said.

Eventually, separate winter and summer leagues will be formed, he said, to allow busy arenas to choose when they needed to fill empty dates.

Paxos said the Toledo area would be an ideal spot for minor league indoor soccer; the size of the market is perfect, he said, and its location could key into several regional rivalries.

The effort already has Ohio ties. The NPSL is based in Canton; Soccer Leagues of America’s headquarters are in Dayton.

One important factor in Rossford’s favor for any of these leagues is the arena’s manager, Olympia Entertainment. Olympia is owned by Mike Ilitch, the pizza magnate who has had previous success with minor league sports.

Ilitch has heavy ties to the AFL and the NPSL. He owns the Detroit Rockers, an NPSL franchise, and league officials said that a Toledo minor-league team could be affiliated with the Rockers.

From 1988 to 1993 he also owned the Arena Football League’s Detroit Drive, which has since relocated to Grand Rapids. “They were the most successful team in our league,” Cooper said. “He wanted to concentrate more on the Red Wings, so he sold the team. But Mike was always very gracious, and I think he’s always been a real advocate of Arena football.”

Mark Cory, group vice president of Olympia, said that his company “would look at other teams” as potential tenants, but said that no discussions have yet taken place.

Each potential new sport would offer different advantages to the arena. The CBA would fill up the most dates – about 28 a year – and likely generate the most income.

An Arthur Anderson marketing study estimated that a CBA team could generate about $469,000 a year for the arena within five years.

But its seasons would also overlap with the hockey team’s, causing potential scheduling conflicts and not helping the summer scheduling problem.

Arena football would use only eight dates a year, but it also would likely generate more dollars per event than any other sport – a total of about $286,000 a year, according to the Arthur Anderson study. It would also bring one of America’s fastest growing sports to the Toledo area.

And the soccer league could play off of the phenomenal success that the sport has had among Toledo-area children in recent years, as well as filling 14 empty dates on the arena’s calendar.

Deal sealed to put team in Rossford; Minor-league Wings to make move in 2000

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

Rossford is ready to become Hockeytown South.

The Rossford Arena Amphitheater Authority unanimously approved an agreement yesterday with the Detroit Red Wings to move their top minor-league affiliate to an arena to be built off I-75 near the Ohio Turnpike.

“This is the final piece in the puzzle,” said Mayor Mark Zuchowski. Having the commitment of the Red Wings will make the $48 million arena-amphitheater project much more sellable to bond buyers, who can be confident the arena will have a major tenant.

It likely makes it tougher for Lucas County or the city of Toledo to justify building a competing ice arena downtown.

The four-member arena authority approved two agreements: one with the Red Wings for the Adirondack Red Wings to move into the arena, and one with Olympia Entertainment, Inc., to manage the arena and amphitheater.

The Red Wings and Olympia are owned by pizza magnate Mike Ilitch and his family. The Ilitches also own the Detroit Tigers. Olympia representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Since Rossford officials announced on Feb. 26 that they had reached a tentative agreement with Olympia to manage the complex, city leaders had said that getting a deal on the team was the key to convincing investors they should lend the project their millions.

Now, with the team committed to move from Glens Falls, N.Y., to Rossford for the 2000-2001 season, investors will be more easily convinced, Mr. Zuchowski said.

“This is just awesome,” he said. “This is a very big step.”

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said he will continue to work with Sandy Isenberg, president of the Lucas County commissioners, and Tim Gladieux, Toledo Sports Arena and Toledo Storm owner, to develop a sports arena and exhibit hall as part of the SeaGate Centre in downtown Toledo and a baseball and multipurpose facility at the site of the Sports Arena.

“I’m not a person who’s concerned about what my competition or neighbors are doing,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “The sooner that we execute Toledo-Lucas County’s dual development plan, the more successfully we will retain our long held position as the center of recreation, entertainment, and sports for Toledo-area residents.”

Ms. Isenberg is on vacation.

The Red Wings deal is for 15 years, with options that could extend it to 50 years. The team will pay $5,000 a game in rent, which would mean $200,000 annually, not including revenues from playoffs or preseason games.

The Red Wings agreement means a long-expected scenario has played out: two hockey teams are committed to playing in the Toledo area, four miles apart.

The Toledo Storm of the East Coast Hockey League plays at the 52-year-old Toledo Sports Arena in East Toledo. Rossford’s announcement caused Mr. Gladieux to announce plans to build an ice arena on the Sports Arena site. Mr. Gladieux has since advocated a county and city plan that would build an ice arena attached to the SeaGate Centre downtown.

He has said that if Toledo leaders come up with a solid plan for an arena, Rossford officials would change their minds and cancel their efforts. Mr. Gladieux did not return phone calls seeking comment last night.

The Rossford arena and amphitheater will be funded by a $48 million bond issue planned in the next two months.

But the Ilitches are making one key contribution to the project’s financing. Under the agreement signed yesterday, Olympia Entertainment will pledge a $2 million letter of credit that will be used to back the bonds.

Having the Ilitches backing the deal financially will make it even more attractive to investors, Mr. Zuchowski said.

The Ilitch letter of credit would be tapped only if all other available funds – including arena revenues, hotel/motel taxes, and admissions taxes – are insufficient to cover the complex’s annual debt service.

The mayor estimated that amount would be $3.9 million a year.

Under the agreement, Olympia will receive:

* Reimbursement for all operating expenses.

* Facility management fees of $300,000 a year.

* Twelve per cent of all food, beverage, and nonhockey merchandise sales.

* Fifteen per cent of all suite license fees, premium seating license fees, advertising and sponsorship revenue, and naming rights revenue.

In addition, Olympia would receive half of all money generated by the arena past the $3.9 million annually needed to pay off the bonds. That includes revenues generated by the city’s five per cent admissions tax.

“A lot of arena deals have that sort of revenue sharing for anything that comes in,” Mr. Zuchowski said. “This way, they don’t get the revenue sharing until the debt service is taken care of for the year.”

Olympia will be in charge of booking all events at the arena and amphitheater and will have the option of promoting events in the complex.

This agreement makes Rossford’s deal the farthest along of the area’s three sports facility proposals. Along with the Sports Arena replacement proposal, the Toledo Mud Hens are trying to build a baseball stadium, possibly in downtown Toledo.

Ms. Isenberg previously announced support for a downtown ice arena. But she said in a recent interview that a Red Wings announcement would add a “major dimension” to the arena discussions.

The Rossford management agreement has been signed by Mark Cory, group vice president of Olympia Entertainment. The Red Wings agreement has not yet been signed by Marian Ilitch, the team’s secretary/treasurer.

But Rossford law director Keith Wilkowski said that is only because of a scheduling conflict for Ms. Ilitch, and that the team will sign the deal early today.

The signed documents are only preliminary agreements; their terms will be fleshed out in more detailed documents in the coming weeks, Mr. Wilkowski said.

Jim Nill, general manager of the Adirondack Red Wings, said he knew “nothing at all” about the deal.

Billboard firm’s owner covets downtown village; Dave Root wants to turn a patch of Toledo into a mini-version of New York City’s SoHo

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 9

Where others see decaying warehouses long past usefulness, Dave Root sees restaurants, theaters, and – most importantly – people.

In Toledo’s warehouse district, vacant or near-vacant buildings sit waiting for tenants. Mr. Root, owner of Root Outdoor Advertising, wants to fill them up again, to turn them into venues that will once more draw people downtown.

And he’s put his money where his vision is, so far spending about $1 million to establish what he calls Huron Street Village.

“Suburban people are getting tired of fighting traffic and going to these ugly boxy buildings to do their shopping,” Mr. Root said. “People want a more urban feel.”

It’s a bold plan that will take millions of dollars: turning old buildings into a hip, urban setting. Mr. Root wants to turn a patch of Toledo into a miniversion of New York City’s SoHo.

Mr. Root owns nearly a dozen buildings in the area, roughly bounded by Erie, Huron, Washington, and Lafayette streets. They’ve been in his family for generations, he said; Root Outdoor’s headquarters are on the same block.

He said the economically smart thing to do would have been to tear down the old buildings, most of which date to the early part of this century. His family had covered many of them with pink aluminum siding. “When we took those off, we saw what could be done with these buildings,” he said. “We couldn’t tear them down.”

He hopes to surround the courtyard with venues designed to attract young, mostly upscale suburbanites itching for “a more urban feel.”

His plans include a restaurant, a bar, a one-screen movie theater, art galleries, a health-food market, and a deli.

“It’s going to have a real village feel, and be a big draw downtown,” he said.

Mr. Root said he is not expecting or requesting major financial assistance from the city. He has received about $100,000 in facade improvement grants, and has gotten Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s promise of funding for sidewalk and street lighting improvements.

Mr. Finkbeiner has lauded Mr. Root for his willingness to put his own money into the project. “This is exactly the kind of private-sector initiative we need,” he said. “It’s a super project.”

Mr. Root said he has received a verbal commitment from “one of Toledo’s top restaurants, a four-star place” to create an establishment in one of the vacant buildings.

Those venues would surround a courtyard which he hopes will become a gathering area, with a fountain and benches.

He expects those attractions to bring nighttime traffic to the area. For daytime traffic, he expects to add a few other businesses and the project’s biggest component, the Root Media Center.

Mr. Root plans to renovate the Berdan Building, at 1 South Erie St., to attract marketing, photography, and other media companies.

“It could be a one-stop stop for people who need media expertise,” he said.

Of a total of 23 commercial spaces projected for the completed project, Root companies will take up six of them. In addition, 12 loft apartments will be on the top floors of buildings.

Plenty of work has been done; the facades of several buildings have been rebuilt.

The neighborhood has a lot of history. When Toledo was part of Michigan, the Huron Street Village area was considered as the site of the University of Michigan.

The neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mr. Root said he has access to two resources that can make the project succeed: advertising and parking. Root Outdoor owns 2,000 billboards across the region, and he said he will be using then to promote the project once it gets going.

Another of his companies, Root Parking Services, controls 500 parking spaces adjacent to the site.

“That will help with one of the biggest problems downtown projects face, which is available parking,” he said.

“When someone drives somewhere, she wants to be able to see her destination from where she’s parked,” Mr. Root said.

He hopes those factors, combined with a national trend toward returning to urban living, will make the project a success.

One of the oft-repeated criticisms of Toledo’s downtown is that its attractions are spread out enough that walking from one to another often requires passage through a less-than-revitalized neighborhood.

But a successful Huron Street Village could help to link up a downtown axis, stretching from the Valentine Theatre and COSI, through the SeaGate Centre and a potential new ice arena, and to the Erie Street Market and Farmers Market.

“Everything will be within walking distance,” he said.

The area is important because it serves as the gateway to the city for travelers coming from the south.

Anyone heading north to downtown from I-75 or the Anthony Wayne Trail drives right through the village on Erie Street.

Mr. Root said he has received many inquiries from businesses interested in locating in the village.

He said the restaurant should be open by the end of the year.

Port maps battle plan for levy; Public events, P.R. firm top list

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

Like generals marshaling their forces, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority officials laid out their battle plans for the agency’s upcoming levy campaign.

“I believe the campaign has to begin today,” said J. Patrick Nicholson, vice chairman of the port board. He and fellow board member George Ballas were named co-chairmen of the port’s levy committee and charged with convincing voters that the port’s good deeds merit the spending of tax dollars.

Their plan: more meetings with the public and hiring a good public relations professional.

The port lost its first battle in November, when Lucas County voters rejected renewal of a 0.4-mill levy. The levy, which produces about $2.2 million a year, will expire at the end of the year.

About two-thirds of the levy’s proceeds, or $1.45 million, go to the Regional Growth Partnership, which does economic development work for a 10-county area in northwest Ohio. The rest goes to the port authority.

Port officials said they will try again and picked the Nov. 2 general election for the attempt. But they said they will try to wean the port authority’s operations from reliance on tax dollars during the next five years.

“Over that time, we should be aiming at not relying on the levy for our operational costs,” said James Hartung, president of the port authority. “We should be totally self-sufficient.”

The money generated by the levy could be used instead for capital improvements, he said.

Mr. Hartung said he hopes the growth partnership will be able to reduce its reliance on tax dollars and that the port authority is much closer to being able to do so. The port authority gets the majority of its funding from user fees and other nontax sources.

Mr. Nicholson said a key part of the board’s message to voters will be that the levy’s defeat would mean the demise of the growth partnership, which he said “everyone knows has done a great job.”

The growth partnership gets about three-quarters of its funding from the levy’s proceeds.

“If this levy falls apart, they’re gonna shut the doors,” Mr. Nicholson said. “That would be disastrous for the community.”

He said he will ask Don Jakeway, president of the growth partnership, to take an active role in promoting the levy.

Port officials said their biggest job will be informing county residents about the port’s work and successes. Too few people know what the port’s role in the local economy is, they said.

“The port authority literally is a player in almost everything that goes on in this town,” Mr. Hartung said.

“Sometimes an accomplishment gets forgotten or minimized because what we do is so complex,” said G. Ray Medlin, chairman of the port board.

To that end, port authority officials will be touring the area in the coming months, holding public meetings to spread the port’s message.

According to a draft of the port’s community outreach plan, each meeting will feature computerized and videotaped presentations about the port’s work, specially tailored to each municipality or neighborhood that officials visit. The meetings, scheduled for April through June, will have “an important local leader” in each area as the host.

The areas to be targeted include all municipalities and townships in Lucas County, as well as Perrysburg, Rossford, and Northwood in Wood County. A total of five neighborhood meetings will be held in Toledo.

Mr. Hartung contended that the meetings are not directly levy related. If they were part of the campaign, port dollars could not be spent on them under state elections law.

“There are a lot of things we can do that aren’t levy related,” he said. “This is just a part of our efforts at outreach in the community.”

But the levy committee’s members – board members David Boston and Dan Smith, along with Mr. Nicholson, Mr. Medlin, and Mr. Ballas – were unanimous in their insistence that the port’s public relations push extend far beyond meetings.

Mr. Nicholson said one of the most important tasks for the campaign committe will be to hire a top public relations firm to manage the levy’s campaign.

He recommended Hart & Associates of Maumee to do the work, but no decision has been made.

Several board members were critical of the work done in the last campaign by Jim Ruvolo, the former chairman of the Lucas County and the Ohio Democratic Party organizations, who was paid $12,000 to coordinate last year’s unsuccessful levy fight.

“He did a poor job,” Mr. Ballas said. “We need some professional help now.”

Last year’s levy was defeated by more than 12,000 votes, 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

The first step for the levy campaign, Mr. Hartung said, will be putting together a campaign committee to accept donations and handle advertising and public relations.

Mr. Nicholson said he wants to ask Lloyd Mahaffey, director of the United Auto Workers’ western Ohio region, to co-chair the campaign with Thomas Palmer, the Toledo lawyer who chaired last year’s losing campaign.

Mr. Mahaffey did not return calls last night seeking comment.

He would be the second union official named to a high-profile, port-related post.

In December, Mr. Medlin, the executive director of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Health & Safety Fund of North America, became port board chairman.

Board members, prompted by Mr. Ballas, briefly considered reducing the size of the levy to make it more appealing to voters. But in a matter of seconds, they nixed that idea, saying the full amount is necessary for the growth partnership’s work.

Mr. Nicholson said shrinking the levy would mean it could not appear on the ballot as a tax “renewal,” which could turn off some voters if they think it is a new tax.

The levy committee considered holding a special election but decided against it because the port would have to pay for the vote, Mr. Medlin said.

But he added that the November date is less than ideal because it will be a “low-interest election.” The only races scheduled for that election are for municipal court and school board seats.

Panel warns that stadium promises often go unfulfilled

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

To everyone excited about the possibility of a new baseball stadium or hockey arena in Toledo, academia had a simple message yesterday: Don’t expect too much.

At a symposium at the University of Toledo, professors and others who have studied the economics of stadiums said politicians promise more than they can deliver. The millions spent on new temples of sport probably would be better spent on projects such as schools, sewers, and streets, they said.

“We have a situation where taxpayers are paying millions to build stadiums for team owners, stadiums they may never set foot in,” said Kenneth Shropshire, a professor at the Wharton School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania’s law school.

Mr. Shropshire was the keynote speaker at the UT college of law’s annual Joseph A. Cannon Memorial Law Review Symposium, which focused this year on the economic impact of stadiums and sports teams.

The Toledo area is swimming in proposals for sports facilities. An arena is planned in Rossford; Lucas County officials are searching for a new home for the Toledo Mud Hens, and Toledo officials are considering building an arena downtown.

Mr. Shropshire, an expert on sports law and economics, cautioned his audience about local leaders who promise a renaissance caused by new stadiums.

He said sports facilities don’t create lots of jobs or generate much economic activity. Even National Football League franchises or teams in other top leagues don’t produce much more of an economic impact than a large department store, he said.

Dollars spent at a new stadium are just dollars not spent at other activities across town. “The amount of leisure money to be spent in a city is fixed,” he said.

“If people are spending more of it going to a ball game, they’re spending less of it for dinner and a movie across town. There isn’t much new money brought into the city.”

Not surprisingly, he said the team owners usually end up as the biggest winners. “How many of us have the public subsidizing our place of business?” he asked.

He said stadiums should be viewed in the same way as museums, parks, or zoos: as things that can affect a community’s quality of life but can’t be justified in purely economic terms. “You can’t expect a return on the investment in a stadium,” he said.

Mr. Shropshire’s address was followed by a brief statement by Tim Gladieux, owner of the Toledo Storm hockey team and a proponent of the new downtown arena proposal. He said the arena would bring a renaissance to downtown.

“It would breathe new life,” he said. “If you care about your community and your investment in downtown, you will give serious thought to the idea.”

He called the arena debate “a thought-provoking test of everyone’s loyalty to downtown.”

Another speaker, Professor Matt Mitten of the South Texas School of Law, said taxpayers too often are snookered by team owners who squeeze what they can out of a city before leaving. Mr. Mitten, a Toledo native and UT alumnus, said May’s vote on a Mud Hens stadium should have persuaded officials not to spend taxpayer millions on the project.

“The voters have spoken, and I think it’s inappropriate for political leaders to be pushing for things the people don’t want,” he said.

Last year, voters rejected a sales tax increase that would have paid for a new ballpark.

The most troubling tale was told by former Tampa, Fla., Mayor William Poe. He sued the city he once ran to try to stop public financing of a $400 million stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“The team owners gave us our marching orders, and we just got fleeced,” he said.

He said the football team persuaded the city to raise its sales tax for 30 years to pay for the stadium. All proceeds from stadium events – even those unrelated to the Bucs – go to the team’s owners, but the city pays for all maintenance.

Throughout the deal making, team officials regularly threatened to leave town for Baltimore.

The day’s events ended with an hour-long panel discussion on the merits of building a Mud Hens stadium. The discussion broke little new ground, as panel members repeated the disparate opinions that have helped to keep the project from moving forward.

The panelists – representing the city, county, and team, including county Treasurer Ray Kest, city Neighborhoods Manager Rick Thielen, Mud Hens General Manager Joe Napoli, Assistant County Administrator Jim O’Neal, and Councilman Bob McCloskey – sparred over financing, site selection, team ownership, and other issues that have been batted around for years.

The final panelist, Lucas County Commissioner Bill Copeland, said repeatedly that that sort of debate among the panelists was the reason why the project isn’t farther along. “We’ve got to get a consensus and move,” he said.

Saunders rips council, resigns as finance head

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

The long-standing battle between Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s administration and city council has flared up again, and this time it’s claimed a victim.

Don Saunders, the city’s finance director for nearly three years, has resigned his post – and blamed city council for it.

Mr. Saunders did not return telephone calls seeking comment, but in a statement he said: “The continued inability to gain respect and support for our efforts from city council has been a major frustration.”

For council members – still reeling from a bloody budget process in which they accused Mr. Saunders of withholding financial data – that was taken as an insult.

“That’s absolutely ludicrous,” said Councilman C. Allen McConnell, chairman of council’s finance committee. “I’m just baffled that we’re the bad guys because we ask for information.”

Mr. Saunders’s resignation was submitted immediately before the council’s meeting Tuesday, at which the city’s budget was passed. Council members complained that they were not given information needed to make informed decisions. While the controversy’s particulars involve sometimes arcane budget numbers, they boil down to a single issue: how much control the council will have over the city’s purse strings.

“We’ve got administrators slamming doors and walking out of meetings,” Councilman Louis Escobar said. “If Mr. Saunders has problems with our asking the questions we have to ask to be responsible with the city’s money, then maybe he shouldn’t be the finance director.”

Mayor Finkbeiner, in Honduras on a relief mission, said in his own statement that the council’s repeated questioning of Mr. Saunders and other city officials was inappropriate.

“I am deeply disappointed that Don has been forced over and over again to defend the accuracy and integrity of his financial data,” the mayor wrote. “Clearly the city council maneuverings of the past 72 hours are related to Don’s resignation as finance director.”

Council members said that sort of questioning and request for information is part of their jobs.

“We’re not elected to just rubber-stamp whatever the mayor sends us,” council President Peter Ujvagi said.

In the end, the council made only a few small changes to the city’s budget before passage. They add up to less than one-third of one per cent of the entire operating budget – about half a million dollars.

The most notable council change was a proposal from Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz to double the size of this year’s police class from 15 to 30. About 30 officers are expected to retire this year. The larger class size will cost an additional $127,000.

The council and the mayor reached a consensus on all other proposed council changes. But Mr. Finkbeiner said that the council’s changes are a threat to the city’s economic future.

“I am dismayed and disgusted that members of city council continue to work to undercut the fiscal integrity of the city’s budget.”

Council members called that absurd.

“If the mayor is so out of touch with the budget that he thinks those changes affected the `fiscal integrity of the budget,’ then maybe he should be spending more time in Toledo and less time doing peace-keeping and goodwill missions out of the country,” said Councilman Gene Zmuda.

“If council was not there as a balancing force, you wouldn’t have any `fiscal integrity’ in the city,” Mr. McConnell said. “The council has integrity and is ready to ask the important questions, if only the proper information is available.”

Mr. McConnell said Mr. Saunders, 63, had been talking about retiring for several months, and may only have been blaming the council on the way out of his job.

Under the leadership of Mr. Ujvagi, the council has been more aggressive about playing a larger role in policy making. In 1993, voters switched from a city manager to a strong mayor form of government, leaving council’s role somewhat undefined.

Under the city charter, city employees answer directly to the mayor, not to the council. Council members have regularly complained that they have not been given information they request from administration officials.

Mr. Finkbeiner presented the city’s preliminary operating budget in November. For the last two months, the council has been analyzing the mayor’s proposal.

Throughout the process, council members said they needed several pieces of information, including how much money is in city accounts and what vacant employee positions the administration plans to eliminate. In each case, council members say, they were denied the information.

They still do not know how much money is left in city accounts from last year. And most members only learned what positions would be cut on Monday, the day before the budget’s passage; city administrators say Mr. Ujvagi was informed about position cuts on March 2.

He said he never received a memo administration officials contend they sent to him.

State law requires that the city pass its budget by March 31. In December, the council set a goal of passing this year’s budget by March 2, but Mr. Ujvagi said members had to push that goal back two weeks because of the lack of financial information.

Mr. Saunders became the city’s finance director in 1996 after retiring from a 37-year career at Toledo Edison. From 1990 to 1993, he was the utility’s president.