Finkbeiner seeks solution in EPA action against city

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A18

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner took advantage of his recent Washington trip to work on a Toledo problem: figuring out how to clean up the Maumee River and end a federal lawsuit against the city.

On Wednesday, Mr. Finkbeiner met with high-level officials of the federal Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to settle the agency’s eight-year-old suit against the city. Federal authorities object to the city’s habit of dumping raw or partially treated sewage into the Maumee River.

The mayor called the meetings a “very positive step” toward a resolution of the suit.

“We’re going to make one last presentation of our side and see if we can settle this,” he said.

In 1991, the EPA sued the city over problems with the city’s combined sewer and stormwater system. During heavy rainfall, the antiquated system becomes overtaxed and begins dumping some of its contents directly into the river.

As a result of the dumping, the Maumee has high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, which can expose anyone in contact with the river to infection.

The city has long acknowledged that improvements need to be made, and has agreed to pay fines totaling $1.2 million and make certain structural changes to the sewage system. But the federal government has not been satisfied with the extent of the city’s changes, city utilities director Don Moline said.

The key sticking point, Mr. Moline said, is that the EPA wants the city to build a 60 million-gallon equalization tank that would hold wastewater and stormwater during heavy rains, to prevent it from flowing into the river. The tank would cost about $45 million to build, and millions more to maintain, he said.

Mr. Moline said that the city doesn’t think the tank is necessary, and that other changes the city is making will make the tank unnecessary.

Until the mayor’s meeting, the EPA had expressed a desire to have a federal judge decide whether Toledo should have to build an equalization tank. But after he was invited to the White House for a state dinner last week, Mr. Finkbeiner arranged to meet with several EPA officials while in Washington.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Finkbeiner said, the EPA expressed a willingness to settle the matter out of court.

“Based on the positive comments from the meeting participants, it appears that an opportunity exists to find a middle ground for agreement,” the mayor wrote yesterday in a letter to Brian Maas, the director of EPA’s water enforcement division.

EPA representatives could not be reached for comment.

The mayor, Mr. Moline, and city attorney Kerry Bruce will meet with EPA representatives in the next two weeks to attempt to reach a settlement. They will be negotiating with Mr. Maas and Francis X. Lyons, the EPA’s top administrator for Region V, which includes most of the Midwest.

Taxpayers help finance mayor’s D.C. trip

By Joshua Benton and David Patch
Blade Staff Writers

Page 15

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner got Alaskan salmon with portabello mushrooms, lamb crusted with pecans and toasted caraway seeds, and barbecued peach ragout.

Toledo taxpayers got the bill.

The city treasury will pick up half the cost of the mayor’s Tuesday night trip to Washington to attend his first state dinner at the White House.

The taxpayer tab will include half of the $1,000 charter flight booked through Grand Aire Express, as well as half of the hotel bill in Washington.

The other half will be paid either by the mayor or his campaign treasury, according to Arturo Quintero, the mayor’s executive assistant. Those funds will be used to pay the cost of the trip for Mr. Finkbeiner’s wife, Amy.

But the cost to taxpayers will be lower than it could have been, thanks to a deal offered by Grand Aire.

The air charter company based at Toledo Express Airport would normally charge between $3,000 and $3,500 to make the trip to Washington and back. But when Mr. Quintero approached Grand Aire about flying to D.C., the company decided to cut the mayor a deal and offer a lower rate.

For some airport watchers, the deal sounded too good to be true. That’s because Mr. Finkbeiner was one of the forces that brought Grand Aire to Toledo Express in 1997 in a controversial move. Part of the deal to bring the company to Toledo was a new airplane parking apron. The city of Toledo, at the mayor’s direction, spent $335,000 to build the apron.

But Tahir Cheema, Grand Aire’s president, said there was nothing improper about the cut rate he offered the mayor. “I would do it for the next mayor, too,” he said. “You help people when you can.

“It’s not the first time we gave a discount to a dignitary who needs to be somewhere,” he said, pointing to Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, who flew from Cleveland to Toledo with Grand Aire for free when he was scheduled to speak last month at the annual meeting of the Corporation for Effective Government.

One air charter industry source didn’t buy that explanation.

“That might as well be a campaign contribution,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

Mr. Cheema said the discount shouldn’t count as a campaign contribution because the mayor’s trip was not for campaign purposes. He added that he recently gave $250 to Mr. Finkbeiner’s campaign fund.

Yesterday morning, before he left for a conference in New Orleans, Mr. Finkbeiner said that the dinner was “terrific, with all the pomp and circumstance.”

The state dinner, honoring Hungarian President Arpad Goncz, was Mr. Finkbeiner’s first, though he’d been to several informal meetings at the White House.

On Tuesday evening, the mayor attended his own 60th birthday party in the Warehouse District, but for only a few minutes. He and his wife left the party, which doubled as a campaign fund-raiser, via helicopter after the mayor made a few brief remarks.

The helicopter, whose use was donated to the mayor by a retired Toledoan, dropped the Finkbeiners off at Toledo Express Airport, where he boarded a plane for Reagan National Airport.

The flight, on a Metroliner turbo-prop, took about an hour and 40 minutes. Mr. Quintero said that the mayor could have gotten to Washington more quickly if he had gone with one of several other charter services in the Toledo area, but said the other businesses couldn’t match Grand Aire’s price.

Once they arrived in Washington, the Finkbeiners were whisked away by car to the White House. City council president Peter Ujvagi, who was born in Hungary, also attended the event but traveled separately from the mayor.

Among the dignitaries at the state dinner: decorating maven Martha Stewart (“I didn’t see her,” Mr. Finkbeiner said); Cleveland Indians pitcher Charles Nagy (“a very nice man, very well spoken”); and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger (“he kept whispering things to the President”). Singer Judy Collins provided the entertainment.

The Finkbeiners returned on the same charter the next morning.

Outsider’s view: Optimistic; The Eyde Co. has enjoyed boom times in Lansing’s downtown, and it sees similar potential in Toledo

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A17

LANSING — Driving around downtown Lansing in his mammoth sport-utility vehicle, Sam Eyde can just feel the property values rising.

Tooling past the sparkling new downtown baseball stadium, through a neighborhood where yuppie cafes have replaced biker bars, he preaches the gospel of downtown revitalization. People are itching to set up shop in downtown Lansing, he says.

“This place is buzzing,” he says. “People want to come downtown now.”

Mr. Eyde, chief executive officer of The Eyde Co., buys and sells real estate, and so, as he puts it, “If I’m not an optimist, I’m in the wrong business.”

But his company, long a dominant player in the Lansing market, is spreading that optimism south. With his recent purchase of three major downtown Toledo buildings – his company’s first venture outside Michigan – Mr. Eyde is betting millions that Toledo’s central business district will soon be seeing a renaissance of its own.

“Maybe in Toledo, everyone is too close to the situation to see all the potential of downtown,” he says. “Maybe there’s some doubt about whether it can happen. But, from Lansing, it looks like a great opportunity.”

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, himself quite a preacher of the gospel of downtown, says that Mr. Eyde and his family has it right.

“The Eydes have the right perspective to see what an opportunity downtown Toledo is for investors,” the mayor said.

And the mayor is hoping that Mr. Eyde will help him out with one of his biggest projects for downtown: attracting a health club for workers and residents.

Mr. Eyde runs a business that has been in his family for almost 45 years. The Eyde Co. handles just about every aspect of real estate development, including land sales, construction, and building management.

Through all those years, the Eyde Co. focused its efforts in the Lansing area, building office structures, apartment buildings, and single-family subdivisions.

Lansing, as the home of state government and with Michigan State University nearby, has a steady supply of recession-proof jobs and has never seen a downturn of the kind industrial cities such as Detroit or Toledo have. But Sam Eyde has decided to put his money – almost $6 million of it – into a Toledo downtown that many have fled.

“There’s so much that tells me that downtown Toledo is a good place for us to be,” he says.

Mr. Eyde admits that his initial motivation for investing in downtown was more happenstance than an earnest belief in Toledo. Last year, he had just closed on the sale of a large property, and for tax purposes, he needed to find a place to put a few million dollars. (See story on the practice of tax-deferred buying in today’s Real Estate section.)

So, in January, 1998, he bought the Fiberglas Tower and the former Toledo Trust building, for $4.5 million. And last month, he closed on a deal to buy One Lake Erie Center for $1.25 million.

Those two deals have given him three empty buildings and a major role in the future of downtown. And, Mr. Eyde says his company is looking to buy even more in Toledo.

“This is their new base,” says Toledo development director Barry Broome. “They’ve done just about everything there is to do in Lansing, so they’re moving their emphasis here.”

Mr. Eyde sees plenty of reasons for optimism in Toledo: the established base of residents in buildings such as the LaSalle Apartments and the Commodore Perry; the opening, in October, of the Valentine Theatre; the continued success of COSI; a possible expansion of the SeaGate Convention Centre, and the potential of a downtown baseball stadium or new hockey arena.

But Mr. Finkbeiner hopes the Eydes will be adding another ingredient to downtown’s revitalization – a downtown health club.

The Eyde family has some experience in the field. From Mr. Eyde’s window, he can see the seven-year-old Michigan Athletic Club – the second largest health club in America, on former Eyde land.

Inside, it’s a veritable sweat palace, with acres and acres of pumping iron and growing muscles. At more than 200,000 square feet after a recent expansion, it includes more than a dozen indoor tennis courts, four locker rooms, two lap pools, and a sea of weight machines. The MAC, as it’s known, has more than 8,000 paying members, including the athletic director of Michigan State.

“This place has been an enormous success, beyond anyone’s expectations,” Mr. Eyde says. “It’s a social center. People love to come here.”

The MAC is second in size only to the East Bank Club in Chicago, a 450,000-square-foot club that sprawls three blocks along the Chicago River.

For obvious reasons, a downtown health club in One Lake Erie Center wouldn’t be anywhere near the palace that the MAC is. But Mr. Eyde said that the first floor and basement of One Lake Erie could be converted into a 40,000-square-foot fitness facility within a year.

The management group that runs the Michigan Athletic Club has agreed to be partners with the Eydes on the project and has been to Toledo several times to inspect the site.

But he cautions that a health club would become reality only if several more pieces come into place. The city, along with ProMedica and Mercy health systems, have funded a feasibility study that will determine how much of a demand exists for a downtown club. Mr. Eyde said he won’t move forward until those results are in.

He says that he would want commitments from several downtown businesses, such as Toledo Edison, Owens-Corning, and The Blade, to support the venture by encouraging their employees to join. It would also take financial incentives from city government, he says, and a partnership with either ProMedica or Mercy.

“We’re not going to move ahead on this until we know it makes sense,” he says, “but it looks promising.”

No matter what happens with the health club, Mr. Eyde plans to move ahead with his plans to convert the Toledo Trust building into apartments. The building, once Ohio’s tallest, has been empty since 1991 except for a ground-floor restaurant fronting Levis Square.

Mr. Eyde acknowledges that some believe the downtown residential market may be nearing saturation, with the LaSalle and Commodore Perry recently opened and the Hillcrest and perhaps other buildings on the way to becoming apartment structures.

But he says that his market feasibility studies are showing that there is still a market willing to live downtown, and the full LaSalle Apartments seem to support him. “Having that constant flow of people in the central business district, that’s what’s going to drive your downtown,” he said.

For a time, the Eydes had been debating whether to turn the building into apartments or condominiums. But the final call was to create 110 upscale apartments, many of which will feature excellent views of the Maumee River and Promenade Park.

The biggest obstacle to the project was eliminated Friday, when the Ohio Housing Finance Agency agreed to give the Eyde Co. $7.7 million in tax credits to redevelop the building.

Mr. Eyde said he’d be ready to make a formal announcement on the project in a few weeks.

The Eydes are the latest in a growing list of non-Toledo firms that have seen downtown as a worthy investment. Wisconsin-based developer Randy Alexander redeveloped the Lasalle building into a successful apartment complex and is rehabilitating the former Hillcrest Hotel. A group of Cleveland investors has been looking at rehabbing the Toledo Edison steam plant, and companies from Ann Arbor and Columbus have committed to opening three restaurants in International Park.

Mayor Finkbeiner says that shows that many Toledo developers are too focused on the past.

“The local guys see old Toledo, how bustling downtown used to be, and how it’s declined since then,” he said. “They think downtown will never return to the old times. But these outsiders see the enormous potential of what we have, with the waterfront and the buildings and the people living downtown.”

The mayor applauded the local developers who have invested downtown – such as Bill and Oliver Hirt, who are rehabbing the Commodore Perry Hotel, and Tom Cousino, who opened the Navy Bistro restaurant in International Park and is constructing a second restaurant and a banquet facility there – for their commitment. But he said that, too often, it takes outsiders such as the Eydes to see the potential of downtown.

But Mr. Eyde is realistic about the downtown and its office vacancy rate – one of the highest office vacancy rates in the country.

When asked about how he plans to fill the Fiberglas Tower to capacity, he replies: “I’m praying.”

He has a strategy mapped out: persuading downtown Detroit businesses to look south. Rental rates in Detroit have risen to the point that he can offer businesses rates more than $5 per square foot cheaper, he says.

He has plans for exterior lighting for the tower and has completed some renovation work in the lobby.

He admits that he doesn’t have any prospects for the building at the moment.

But he has faith.

“Vacant buildings are our forte,” he says. “We like the challenge.”

Port board relents on closed meetings; Outside attorney to record sessions

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

In an unprecedented move, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority has agreed to have all of its closed-door meetings tape-recorded, and to provide special notice to The Blade whenever it plans to meet outside the public’s view.

The agreement is part of an out-of-court settlement with the newspaper, and an effort to show that the port is following Ohio’s public meetings laws.

The settlement ends a 17-month legal battle between the newspaper and the port authority over two 1997 meetings The Blade contends were improperly held outside the view of the public and the press.

The port authority’s board of directors approved the settlement by a unanimous voice vote yesterday.

“This was a historic victory on behalf of the people,” said John Robinson Block, co-publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade. “The port authority broke the law, and we stopped them from doing it again.”

As part of the settlement, the port admitted no wrongdoing.

“We’re happy to be able to focus more of our attention on doing our job,” said port president James Hartung. “This had been something of a distraction.”

The port authority operates Toledo Express Airport, Metcalf Field, and Toledo’s shipping port.

Attorney David Marburger, a lawyer for the Ohio Newspaper Association, hailed the settlement as a “clear victory for The Blade.”

“It’s an outstanding result for The Blade, and I think it’s a good result for the people of Lucas County, as well,” said Mr. Marburger, who was co-counsel for The Blade.

The suit stemmed from a Dec. 15, 1997, meeting of the port board’s airport committee. At that meeting, board members went into executive session, saying they would be discussing pending litigation.

Under Ohio public records law, a public body like the port authority can go into executive session – and thus exclude the public and press from their deliberations – only for limited purposes. Discussing pending litigation is one of those purposes allowed by law.

But at the meeting, a Blade reporter standing in a hallway adjacent to the executive session overheard some of the matters being discussed – matters that had nothing to do with pending litigation.

Among the topics covered: how to deal with a fixed-base operator at Toledo Express whose complaints about port authority staff had been featured in recent Blade articles, and how to react to negative publicity from The Blade. Under Ohio sunshine laws, those are not acceptable reasons for a public body to meet in private.

The next day, The Blade requested a copy of a tape recording made of the executive session, only to learn that then-airport director Mark VanLoh had already erased the recording.

Two days later, the newspaper filed suit against the port, alleging a “pattern of willful, unlawful conduct” in violation of public meetings laws.

Among the specific charges: that the executive session was illegal; that Mr. VanLoh had destroyed a public record; that the port charged too much for photocopies made for reporters and the public.

The suit also alleged that an executive session held on Oct. 23, 1997, was also illegal. Then-port board member Bill Boyle said after that session that the board had discussed a Blade editorial they considered unfair, as well as how to repond to Blade coverage of the port.

The port authority countersued the newspaper, saying that The Blade’s reporter had improperly listened in on the Dec. 15 executive session.

Under the settlement approved yesterday, both suits were dropped, although either party could choose to refile at a later date.

The port authority agreed to:

* Hire an outside attorney to attend all executive sessions and record the proceedings. The attorney, William Connelly of Connelly, Soutar & Jackson, will keep the tapes. In the event that The Blade or any other news organization argues that an executive session was held illegally a judge could choose to listen to those tapes to make a ruling.

* Provide “reasonable written notice” to an outside monitor appointed by the port and “acceptable to The Blade” before going into executive session. Currently, the port board can go into executive session at any time it chooses, at any meeting, and without any advance notice.

The port and the newspaper have agreed to appoint local attorney John Carey, of Watkins, Bates & Carey, as monitor. The port will provide notice to a Blade attorney.

* Comply with all state public meetings laws.

The agreement will last for 18 months, which Mr. Hartung said was a compromise between the lengths of time requested by the two sides. The port authority will pay the attorney’s fees of Mr. Connelly and Mr. Carey.

Mr. Marburger said that to his knowledge no public agency has ever agreed to submit to such conditions in conducting closed meetings.

“No court could have ordered these concessions,” he said.

Mr. Block called the settlement “a precedent-setting victory” for The Blade. “On behalf of the cause of openness in Ohio, we stopped them,” he said. “They broke the law, and we didn’t let them get away with it.”

He said that the newspaper had decided to settle the lawsuit – something it had never done before in an Open Meetings and Open Records case – because a court resolution was being delayed for too long.

“I think they want to get this thing out of the way,” he said. “They need to rebuild public trust, and they have to do penance for the sins of the past.”

Mr. Hartung said that the port had done nothing wrong, but wanted to avoid committing too much of its resources to a protracted legal fight.

“Any time you can settle a legal matter out of court, I think it’s a positive outcome,” he said.

Mr. Block said the public agency was in denial.

“They still refuse to understand that they broke the laws of the state of Ohio,” he said.

J. Patrick Nicholson, the port board’s vice chairman who ran yesterday’s meeting because chairman G. Ray Medlin was out of town, said that he supports the agreement. He particularly lauded the attorneys for both sides, The Blade’s Fritz Byers and Mr. Connelly, who represented the port.

“I’ve never seen two people fight harder to find a solution acceptable to two strong bodies,” he said. “I think it’s a fair and responsible settlement, and I compliment all parties involved.”

The board voted on the settlement after a 30-minute executive session to consider The Blade’s litigation.

Obituary: Cliff Zakrzewski

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

Cliff “Zak” Zakrzewski, a former Toledo police officer who stayed active after his retirement, died Sunday in Toledo Hospital. He was 71.

The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, family members said.

Mr. Zakrzewski was born and raised in Toledo and attended Woodward High School. Immediately after graduating in 1945, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy for the tail end of World War II and was stationed in the Philippines.

After leaving the Navy, he returned to Toledo and started work at the Willys Overland plant, working in the Jeep body shop. He remained at Willys until joining the Toledo police department in the 1950s.

“He had a great way of working with people as a policeman, because everybody respected him,” said Tricia Hines, one of his daughters. At various times, Mr. Zakrzewski was a neighborhood beat cop, a downtown traffic controller, and dispatcher. In one incident she remembered, her father talked a distraught man out of committing suicide.

Throughout his time on the force, he kept up with one of his hobbies: drumming. A former drum major at Woodward, he spent nearly every weekend as an adult performing big band jazz and Polish music at neighborhood weddings, and he played in a local drum-and-bugle corps.

“His father had been a drummer before him, and he gave him lessons and got him started,” Ms. Hines said.

After 30 years on the force, he retired in 1984. He played golf regularly in two police retiree leagues, and he kept playing golf until a week before his death. He did lawn work for elderly neighbors, built model cars for his nephew, and did chauffeur work for Owens-Illinois.

“He loved helping people,” his daughter said. “His life revolved around being active and happy and helping others.”

One of his favorite activities was taking a long drive every Sunday afternoon “if the weather was good,” she said. “We might drive 200 miles on a Sunday, a mini-adventure. We’d go to Indiana or to Michigan. It just relaxed him, the fresh air, looking at new places and learning about them,” she said.

He was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and American Legion.

Surviving are his wife, Alice; two daughters, Tricia Hines and Pamela Rybka; two brothers, Lucien and Richard Zakrzewski, and a sister, Betty Dossatt.

The body will be at the Walker Funeral Home, Maumee, after 2 p.m. tomorrow. Mass will be held Thursday at St. Hedwig Catholic Church. The time has not been set.

The family requests tributes be made to St. Hedwig Parish.