By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
After spending the last two months trying to sell the Fallen Timbers battleground to commercial developers, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner announced yesterday that he wants to see it turned into a historical park.
The biggest hurdle remaining: raising the millions of dollars it will cost for preservationists to buy the land from the city. Possibilities include state and federal funds or even a levy on Lucas County residents.
“We respect the intentions of the preservationists. We think they’re right,” the mayor said. “All we ask is fair market compensation.”
The 1794 battle, which opened up this part of the Midwest to white settlement, took place primarily on a 188-acre tract of land owned by the city of Toledo.
For the last few years a coalition of preservationists have offered to buy it and turn it into a historical park.
But until yesterday – the 204th anniversary of the battle – the mayor had held back, saying the city could make more money by selling it to developers.
Now, he will join the preservationists in trying to raise the money to preserve it.
“The city of Toledo stands ready to work with any and all parties to preserve the battle site,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Preservationists expressed happiness at news of the mayor’s shift.
“This is the most positive statement that I have heard since the beginning of the project,” said Maumee Mayor Steve Pauken, in whose city the land lies. “Mayor Finkbeiner has sent us a very positive signal that he wants to work with us.”
Only two months ago, the city put out a call to area developers, asking them to propose ways to turn the site, along with other city land, into a commercial and industrial area.
The mayor previously had said that the city simply could get more money for the land if something other than a historical park was built there.
The city bought the land in 1987 as part of a failed attempt to extend Toledo’s borders to include undeveloped land.
But with yesterday’s announcement, plans to sell the battlefield to private interests were put on hold. Barry Broome, the city’s development director, said the Fallen Timbers land is no longer being offered to developers.
The one private developer with an option on the land, The Isaac Group of Bryan, has volunteered to “step back from their interest in the land” if preservation is possible, the mayor said.
Zac Isaac, Isaac Group vice president, said his company would not make any decisions until after area officials decide if the battleground will be preserved.
The biggest problem facing preservationists now is raising enough money to buy the land at the price Mr. Finkbeiner wants.
The mayor said he believes the fair market value of the land to be approximately $7.5 million. Preservation interests previously have offered $2.5 million.
The mayor said he will help activists try to make up the difference, appealing to federal, state, and private sources.
“There are a lot of pots [of money] to look into,” he said.
Mr. Finkbeiner said he will insist on a high sale price because the city is facing higher-than-expected costs in the North Toledo Jeep project, and it can’t afford to be selling the Fallen Timbers land at too low of a price.
“We have a lot of bills to pay,” he said.
Money from the sale of the battlefield will go directly toward paying off the $20 million loan Toledo is taking out from the federal government for Jeep expenses, he said.
The mayor did, however, repeat his earlier offer to donate 15 acres of the battlefield to the preservation effort.
He announced for the first time that he would be willing to sell an additional 15 or 20 acres to preservationists at a discounted rate.
Those two moves, he said, would put the city of Toledo’s contribution to the project at about $1.2 million.
At a meeting of the Fallen Timbers Battlefield Preservation Commission last night, Toledo city officials Ken Dobson and Steve Herwat pitched their case to battlefield advocates.
“We are in full support of preserving the battlefield,” Mr. Dobson said. “We have absolutely no opposition, and we want to be a player in making it happen.”
Still, he was peppered with angry questions from commission members, who accused Toledo of trying to block preservation efforts.
Mr. Dobson answered by saying that is no longer the city’s stance.
“This is new,” he said. “One of the interesting things in life is a change in attitude. It is a sign of growth.”
Commission leaders said they welcomed Mr. Finkbeiner’s change of heart.
“I’m thrilled,” Marianne Duvendack, commission vice president, said. “I hope it’s a permanent step and not just a political one.”
“This is a major step forward by the city,” said Dr. G. Michael Pratt, the Heidelberg College archaeologist who located the site of the battle in 1995.
Mr. Pauken said that Mr. Finkbeiner’s comments don’t ensure the land will be preserved, but they do indicate there will be productive negotiations with the city of Toledo.
“We still have a price to agree to, and other decisions to be made, and we have to find some method of raising the money,” he said. “But this is a very positive signal.”
He said he would like to see funding sources identified by the end of 1998.
One potential source for the purchase-price shortfall: a new levy for Lucas County residents. Mr. Finkbeiner said he will “very seriously ask” Metroparks officials to consider a levy campaign to purchase the land and provide funds for its maintenance.
Mr. Pauken said he would “rather look at other revenue sources first.”
But the Maumee mayor said he is very pleased by his Toledo colleague’s statements, and looks forward to cooperating with him.
“Today’s the anniversary of the battle, and it’s more of a time for healing than confrontation,” he said.