Valentine fund-raisers reach $6.5 million goal; Theater will not need more county money

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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After three years of effort – and thousands of checks big and small – the Valentine Theatre’s capital campaign has reached its $6.5 million fund-raising goal.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Jim White, Jr., a lawyer with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, who chaired the fund-raising effort. “We’ve gotten a very positive response from the public sector and generous gifts from corporations, foundations, and individuals.”

The 103-year-old Valentine, on St. Clair Street downtown, is being renovated at a cost of nearly $28 million. The state of Ohio has provided $18.5 million of that total, and $2.75 million has come in noncash gifts from the city of Toledo and other sources.

The Toledo Cultural Arts Center, the organization that will run the theater, was charged with raising the remaining $6.5 million. Yesterday, officials announced that they have reached that goal.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Dale Vivirito, the Valentine’s executive director.

The fund-raising success means that Lucas County taxpayers will not have to foot any more of the bill for the theater’s renovation.

Under state matching rules, the art center could not receive all of the state’s contribution for the project until it had raised its entire $6.5 million commitment. But in June, the Lucas County commissioners pledged to make up for any shortfall in the theater’s fund-raising, enabling the state funds to be released in full a few months early.

The announcement means that the county will not have to contribute any additional money to the 899-seat theater.

At a party last night to celebrate reaching the fund-raising goal, Carroll Ashley, chairman of the arts center board, noted that it has been a long struggle to save the Valentine Theatre.

“This project may go down as one of the longest running in history,” he said. “There are some folks who have been working on it for 20 years.

“You can have lots of plans and enthusiasm. But the tough part is getting the money. It takes a lot of hard work. But we have done it.”

Funding has come from a variety of sources. In 1995, Blade Communications, Inc., made the first large donation, contributing $500,000. Later in the year, Lucas County gave a gift of $1 million. The city was a significant player in the fund-raising drive, appropriating $1.1 million to buy land for a plaza, as well as providing some of the services to build it.

Those contributions and others from corporations such as Dana Corp., Owens-Illinois, Inc., and Chrysler helped raise the matching money that was required to get the state funds. For every $2 of state money received, $1 had to be given in local contributions.

The Valentine was once home to the largest stage between New York and Chicago, and hosted many of the world’s top talents during its heyday. But it fell into disuse and, after its closure in 1976, was targeted to be torn down several times.

But a two-decade-long campaign, along with the funding from the state, county, and city, has allowed the theater to return, and downtown leaders hope the Valentine will be a centerpiece for a renaissance in the central business district. Its doors will reopen at a gala event on Oct. 9.

The campaign has raised $6.88 million so far, according to development director Halle Bruening. It was pushed over the top by a strong response to its membership drive and a large anonymous gift from a southeast Michigan foundation, she said. Mr. White held a party last night at his home for major donors and those who helped with the fund-raising effort.

He cautioned that the job of fund-raising is not complete. Theater-backers are hoping to raise $400,000 to $500,000 in the coming months to pay for several improvements, including an additional concession area, film projectors, and a small performance space on the fifth floor.

But Mr. Vivirito said he will let his fund-raisers take a break before getting into the search for that final sum.

“They deserve a pause to celebrate the fruits of their labor,” he said. “They’ll come to the opening, and hopefully be amazed at what’s been done and be proud at their role.

“And then we’ll put them back to work,” he laughed.

Port questions legal firm over airport noise case

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A3

A Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board member is questioning whether the agency should continue to have its legal work done by the Spengler Nathanson law firm, after it made a judgment he says could have cost the agency millions.

“I just want to make sure that taxpayers are getting the bang for the buck they deserve,” board member Jerry Chabler said.

For six years, port officials dealt with a looming fear: that a multi-million-dollar legal settlement in the battle over noise at Toledo Express Airport could bankrupt the agency.

In 1993, a group of homeowners living near the airport filed suit against the port authority over the wall-rattling noise from passing jets, and officials feared a judgment that could reach as high as $10 million.

But under the terms of a $4.6 million settlement the port authority reached with the homeowners Friday, it will only have to pay $900,000 with its own money. The port authority’s insurance companies will pick up the remaining $3.7 million.

But the port authority almost had to pay for it all because Spengler Nathanson told board members that the agency’s liability insurance would not cover any of the payouts to homeowners, board members said.

That legal advice, which turned out to be incorrect, has led Mr. Chabler to question whether the port authority should keep doing business with the firm.

“I want a thorough explanation as to why one of Toledo’s biggest law firms told us our insurance wouldn’t cover our costs,” he said.

Spengler Nathanson has been doing legal work for the port authority since the agency began operation in 1955. Joseph Nathanson, one of the firm’s founders, helped craft the state law that allowed the port authority to be established and served as an early general counsel for the port authority.

The law firm initially defended the port authority when the homeowners filed their suit in 1993.

The Chicago law firm of Hopkins & Sutter was enlisted to assist on the case. Hopkins & Sutter is one of the nation’s top firms on airport noise issues, William Connelly, a Toledo attorney, said.

But Spengler Nathanson and Hopkins & Sutter told the port authority that insurance had never covered settlements in an airport noise case, Mr. Connelly said.

They said that in the event of a judgment against the port authority or a settlement, the agency likely would have to come up with the cash.

Considering the port authority has a cash reserve of only $2.9 million, that threatened the agency with potential bankruptcy.

But last year, the port authority brought in Mr. Connelly, of Connelly, Soutar, & Jackson, to look at the issue. Mr. Connelly, who said that insurance coverage is “an area of concentration” for his firm, felt the insurance companies should be legally bound to pay, and found arguments to support his view in their policies.

“It’s not a clear point, but we felt we could convince [the insurers] to pay,” he said.

In May, the port authority sued several of its insurers to determine if they would be forced to pay for a settlement.

On Friday, in announcing the settlement with homeowners, the port authority announced a settlement on its suit against Coregis Insurance, which agreed to pay $3.5 million of the $4.6 million deal.

An insurance consortium known as the London Cos. has agreed to pay $200,000.

The port authority is suing the London Cos. in an attempt to get it to pay the remaining $900,000 cost and the nearly $1.5 million the port authority has spent in legal fees fighting the airport noise battle.

Mr. Chabler said he wonders why Spengler Nathanson didn’t argue that the insurance companies should have to pay.

“It might have saved some time and legal fees if Spengler Nathanson had just done what Bill Connelly did a few years earlier,” he said.

Port board Chairman G. Ray Medlin said he does not want to comment on Spengler Nathanson’s legal work on the case.

“I think we got some excellent advice from Bill Connelly,” Mr. Medlin said. “I don’t have anything to say about the other advice we got.”

But he did say he would be open to discussing the firm’s role with the port authority, a discussion Mr. Chabler said he intends to begin.

Mr. Connelly said that Friday’s settlement was, to his knowledge, the first time an insurance company has agreed to pay part of a settlement of an airport noise suit.

Gary McBride, managing partner of Spengler Nathanson, said he was not directly involved in setting strategy in the case, and referred questions to his partner, Teresa Grigsby.

Ms. Grigsby and port authority President James Hartung did not return phone messages yesterday. Representatives of Hopkins & Sutter could not be reached for comment.

Dulcimers add musical charm to Roche de Boeuf festival

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Not far from the carnival music at yesterday’s Roche de Boeuf festival in Waterville was a quieter sound – one that might have been heard 150 years ago.

The Black Swamp Dulcimer Gathering brought their sweet stringed music from the 19th century to the modern day.

“We just love the sound,” said Vickie Halsey, one of the founders of the 20-member group.

Northwest Ohio’s history has always been an important part of the annual Roche de Boeuf festival, sponsored by Waterville’s chamber of commerce.

But festival organizers gave this year’s festival, the last of the 1900s, the theme of “As the Century Turns,” and put a focus on activities from the 1800s.

So yesterday there were soap makers, bobbin lace makers, blacksmiths, and potters, all showing their wares. But probably the most popular was the dulcimer group.

Members play two varieties of the instrument: A mountain dulcimer looks like a small, elongated guitar and sits on the player’s lap, and a hammered dulcimer is a carved box with a series of taut strings stretched across its face. The strings are struck by felt-topped hammers and produce a piano-like sound.

The group, with the female members decked out in bonnets and long dresses, played dozens of selections from its repertoire yesterday, many of them Civil War-era standards and folk favorites.

The titles belied the songs’ age: “Mississippi Sawyer,” “Lincoln and Liberty,” “Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm.”

The instrument can inspire fanatical devotion in some of its players. Just ask Claire Sniegowski, the sister-in-law of dulcimer player Rosemarie Tokar and a member of the audience yesterday.

“You know how they say some women are golf widows?” Ms. Sniegowski asked. “Well, Rosemarie’s husband is a dulcimer widower.”

Festival organizers called the 19th century activities “lost arts.” But Ms. Halsey said that dulcimer music is no lost art: There are more than a dozen dulcimer groups throughout Ohio and Michigan, many of them formed in the last five years.

“There’s been a resurgence,” she said. “People like the music of a bygone era.”