Mayor touts Mud Hen site in lofty perch

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 15

Like a real estate agent showing off his favorite property, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner went downtown yesterday to show off where the Toledo Mud Hens want to build their dream home – and to convince voters that they should close the deal next month.

Atop the Radisson Hotel and alongside county leaders and downtown boosters, the mayor repeated his call for a baseball stadium in the Warehouse District and argued that the economic benefits of a ballpark would dwarf the tax money it would take to build it.

“This stadium will be an enormous asset to downtown and to all of Lucas County,” he said.

On May 5, county voters will decide whether to raise their sales tax by a quarter of a penny for 35 months.

The money raised, about $35.4 million, would go toward building the ballpark and an aquatic complex on the site of Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee.

The Mud Hens, a Toledo icon that ranks alongside Jamie Farr and Tony Packo’s restaurant in national recognition, have what most observers consider the worst stadium in the Triple-A International League.

Team officials have said they fear their parent club, the Detroit Tigers, might sever its affiliation with the Hens unless a nicer park is built.

In the hotel’s presidential suite – which was lent to the pro-tax campaign for free, officials said – Mr. Finkbeiner enumerated what he said the ballpark could attract. He said construction alone would pump more than $100 million into the local economy and create 930 jobs.

Once completed, the stadium and aquatic complex would create 420 permanent jobs, he said.

“We are talking about a very positive economic impact on downtown,” he said.

Other stadium boosters emphasized the small size of the tax, using phrases like “a very small token,” “not a significant amount,” and “not much.”

“For a quarter of a penny, you’re going to get an awful lot of economic impact,” said Gene Cook, general manager of the Mud Hens and recently retired president of city council.

He said Ned Skeldon Stadium had been stretched “as far as it will go. Realistically, it’s still a horse racetrack.”

From the hotel perch, though, the proposed stadium is a bunch of old warehouses, in various states of disrepair.

As boosters excitedly pointed to where home plate would be and described the view fans will have of the Maumee River, they acknowledged that they have a fight to convince voters.

“We hope the voters of Lucas County will be wise, that they will be visionary,” the mayor said.

Obituary: Shirley Nischwitz

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 14

Shirley Nischwitz of Sylvania, a receptionist whose smiling face greeted thousands during her career at the Jewish Community Center of Toledo, died yesterday in Toledo Hospital.

She was 59 and had been hospitalized with liver failure for about three weeks, family members said.

Born and reared in Toledo, Mrs. Nischwitz specialized in making people around her comfortable.

“She didn’t really have any hobbies, besides people,” said her son, Keith Silvernail. “She didn’t care about herself, but always wanted to know how you were doing.”

As a young wife raising three sons in Sylvania, Mrs. Nischwitz took on the added responsibility of watching other children in their neighborhood during the day. On some days, up to 14 children between the ages of 3 and 10 roamed the house, Mr. Silvernail said.

Once the children were grown, she and her husband loved to hop in the family car and drive for hours, sometimes taking an impromptu weekend in some other city, her son said.

She loved palm trees, but never saw one in person until her eldest son, Charles Silvernail, took her to Florida.

The family has a photo of Mrs. Nischwitz hugging a palm tree on the beach.

By the time her children had children of their own, she spent more time playing with her grandchildren. They called her “Nonnie;” she regularly asked them to let her “chew their faces,” her term for a particularly aggressive kiss.

When the Jewish Community Center of Toledo opened in Sylvania in 1976, she was hired as the lobby receptionist – a job she kept until her illness.

“She really liked to make people smile when they came in,” her son Keith said. “She enjoyed her job.”

Since her hospitalization three weeks ago, she had received more than 100 get-well cards from community center members.

Surviving are her husband, Thomas; sons, David, Keith, and Charles; mother, Rose Blazey; stepfather, Bernard Blazey; brother, Edward Jacobs; stepdaughters, Kelly Mettler and Kim Nischwitz, and six grandchildren.

A Scripture service will be at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Reeb Funeral Home, Sylvania, where the body will be after 1 p.m. today. Services will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow in St. Joseph Catholic Church, Sylvania.

The family requests tributes to the Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Perrysburg Township.

Air Force weather service gets a test

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 6

BELLEVUE, NEB. — Some pilots flying over the United States today will be getting their weather information from a different source.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Air Force Weather Agency will be forecasting and transmitting weather bulletins to pilots.

The activity is part of a test to see if the Air Force can efficiently take the place of the National Weather Service.

“We’re showing that we can handle the job,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Sadovsky, who is stationed at Offutt Air Force Base outside Omaha.

The test is not aimed at permanently replacing the weather service, he said – only as a backup should the weather service station in Kansas City, which provides aviation forecasts, fail for technical reasons.

It affects only the flight areas around four busy airports – Boston’s Logan, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago’s O’Hare, and Miami International.

The Air Force will be in charge of reporting areas of icing and turbulance to civilians – a service they already provide for all military flights.

But the military formats data in a slightly different format – for the technically inclined, they don’t recognize sigmets and airmets in the same way – and the Air Force will be switching over to the civilian format for the test period.

“We’ll be talking to the civilian public in their language,” Sergeant Sadovsky said.

He said his agency takes over civilian forecasting several times a year and will be doubling their in-house staff for today’s test.

Finkbeiner criticizes Rite Aid for shutting 2 stores in central city

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner prescribed some harsh medicine for Rite Aid yesterday – stop abandoning Toledo’s central city or face the consequences of angering city leaders.

“We welcome Rite Aid doing business in Toledo,” he said. “But when they make plans, they need to think about the impact on the neighborhood.”

The mayor, joined by District 1 Councilwoman Wilma Brown, held a news conference in front of the Rite Aid at Dorr Street and Junction Avenue, which is scheduled to close April 11.

Combined with the January closing of a Rite Aid at Bancroft Street and Upton Avenue, also in the central city, the shutdown has made some city leaders accuse the drugstore giant of abandoning some central-city neighborhoods.

“It’s destroying what we’re trying to build, and that’s the neighborhood,” Mrs. Brown said. “Suppose you don’t have a car to get to the drugstore? They’re leaving behind the senior citizens who need to walk to the drugstore.”

But Rite Aid spokesman Tom Andrzejewski said claims that the company was abandoning the central city were ludicrous. He point ed to a store at Monroe Street and Detroit Avenue that opened last year.

Both the Dorr Street store and the shuttered Bancroft Street store are about a mile away from the new store, which Mr. Andrzejewski said would provide better service, longer hours, and more features to the neighborhood than either of the other two.

“It’s pretty much in the same neighborhood,” he said. “Rite Aid just cannot operate a smaller store that doesn’t provide the revenues needed to keep it open.”

The Dorr Street store is being closed to focus more of the company’s efforts at the Monroe store, which is about 50 per cent larger.

In his speech, Mr. Finkbeiner mentioned the possibility of taking action against Rite Aid if the company does not reinvest in central-city locations.

Mrs. Brown went further, saying she would try to block any zoning changes or construction permits for future Rite Aid stores.

Rite Aid is planning to open seven new stores in Toledo over the next 18 months, an investment of $14 million. An undetermined number – perhaps four or five – will replace one of the 17 existing neighborhood stores in Toledo.

Mr. Andrzejewski said trying to block development and construction would be counterproductive.

“It certainly would be a shame if the city stood in the way of new investment and taxes and jobs and more dollars for a community that has undergone some tough times,” he said. “Rite Aid is in there. It’s a retailer that has stuck to its guns and built a new store in the inner city.”

Mayor backs off on vow to hire chief of staff

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Despite critics’ beliefs that it could stop what they call micromanaging, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner will not hire a chief of staff anytime soon.

The decision was made five months after he told supporters and reporters that he would fill the position, which has been vacant since July, 1996.

“That position is a luxury,” the mayor said this week.

Soon after his election to a second term in November, Mr. Finkbeiner promised to hire – and empower – a chief of staff, partially as a response to criticism from city employees and council members who said the mayor was too involved in the minutiae of city government’s day-to-day operations.

“I’m not going to hire anybody just to say I have a chief of staff,” he told The Blade then. “I’ll hire a talented individual who I think will do an excellent job of fulfilling that function.”

In the preliminary budget he submitted to the council in November, he included $87,000 to fund the position. But when city leaders had to make cuts to balance the budget, the chief of staff was one of the first positions eliminated.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he would rather leave an empty position unfilled than be forced to lay off a city employee.

“It is not one of our 10 or 12 top priorities,” he said. “We have several other positions we consider more pressing to fill now.”

The mayor said he might begin searching for a chief of staff by year’s end, after other hiring priorities have been fulfilled.

While the budget item for the chief of staff has been cut, Mr. Finkbeiner could adjust his office’s funding later this year to fill the position, officials said.

He said the search would be difficult because of the city’s relatively low pay levels and the lengthy time it could take to find a superior candidate.

But city leaders said they weren’t surprised that the job will remain empty for the time being, even though they said filling the post would improve the mayor’s decision-making.

“My sense is he doesn’t really want one,” said at-large Councilman Gene Zmuda, a frequent Finkbeiner critic. “You know this mayor well enough. If he really wanted something, he would order that it be done.”

Council President Peter Ujvagi said the mayor would make better decisions if he were able to delegate some of his authority.

“I would respectfully submit that he needs a very, very strong, powerful chief of staff,” Mr. Ujvagi said. “But, for better or worse, Carty Finkbeiner is his own chief of staff. Do I think he should hire one? Yes. Do I think he’s going to? No.”

John Alexander was the last person in the mayor’s office to hold the title of chief of staff. He resigned in July, 1996, and took a lower-paying job as assistant Lu cas County administrator. He said the city would benefit if the mayor had an “inner circle” to assist him in day-to-day operations.

“I think it would be valuable to have several people whose judgment and insight the mayor values,” he said. “I believe there needs to be people surrounding the chief executive officer who can take complex issues, lay out options, and make recommendations.”

Mr. Alexander agreed with other leaders who said the mayor had taken on much of the role of a chief of staff for himself.

“The mayor has his own unique approaches to issues that generally would fall to a chief of staff,” he said. “He is a very quick study of policy issues and of people, and I think he makes immediate judgments, and at times doesn’t seek counsel that may put a different perspective out for consideration.”

Mr. Ujvagi said the decision ultimately is the mayor’s.

“It’s counterproductive to hope he’ll get a chief of staff,” he said. “The mayor has obviously not felt it was necessary.”

“I think Carty is comfortable with his style,” Mr. Alexander said. “It’s working for him and his vision. From the moment Carty took office, he had a vision. He’s to a large degree fulfilled that vision, and I was glad to have been a part of it.”

Blade staff writer Jeffrey Cohan contributed to this report.

Council OK’s tax abatement; Cooper Industries’ early ’90s layoffs cited during debate

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Is economic development a moral issue?

Councilman Peter Gerken thinks so, and doesn’t want to see tax dollars going to businesses that have laid off hundreds of Toledo workers.

But Mr. Gerken could not convince his colleagues at last night’s council meeting. He was on the losing end of a 10-2 vote to approve a $225,000 tax abatement package for Cooper Industries.

In 1989, Cooper bought Champion Spark Plug Co., one of Toledo’s industrial giants, from the Stranahan family. It once employed 3,500 Toledoans. A year later, Cooper laid off 430 employees, closed Champion’s Toledo plant, and left a small, shrinking core of operations here.

The Finkbeiner administration had asked council to approve the abatement to encourage Cooper to keep its Upton Avenue facility, which employs about 120 workers.

Mr. Gerken said he didn’t want to support a company responsible for laying off so many Toledoans from a 83-year-old city icon.

“A tax abatement is a use of our resources, and we need to be careful who we give our resources to,” he said. “Cooper has not been a good player in this community, and they should not be rewarded.”

Presenting the administration’s view was economic development commissioner Barry Broome, who said throwing away the last 120 jobs wouldn’t help anyone.

“I think we’re giving this company a reason to stay,” he said. “I don’t see why we should risk losing 120 jobs because we lost a thousand or two years ago.”

Cooper had promised to invest $2.8 million in improving its building and obtaining new equipment, but only if the abatement was approved. Mr. Broome said he expected “a significant job loss” and the eventual departure of the facility from Toledo if the abatement failed.

The jobs remaining are high-skilled technical jobs, with average salaries between $45,000 and $50,000 a year, he said.

Arguing against Mr. Gerken, Mr. Broome said the city would be fully reimbursed for all lost tax revenue if Cooper left town, and that the company had agreed to pay more than $121,000 to Toledo Public Schools in lieu of taxes.

Mr. Gerken said that was not enough, and that providing Cooper with an abatement would mean forgetting the hundreds laid off.

“We’re going to have to make a distinction between what’s good economic development policy and what’s good moral policy,” he said.

In the end, though, Mr. Gerken could only get Councilwoman Edna Brown to support his point of view. Councilman C. Allen McConnell, who before the meeting was expected to vote against the abatement, changed his mind and voted yes.

The council sat through more than seven hours of meetings last night, considering 89 pieces of legislation – a record for city government since the strong mayor system was introduced in 1993, officials said.

Highlights from other action:

* Council passed its capital improvement budget for 1998, after only minor additions for small projects requested by individual council members for their districts.

The largest chunk of the budget is dedicated to the Stickney Avenue Jeep plant, with $12 million of the $44 million budget dedicated to the project.

Last-minute additions to the funded projects list yesterday include doubling the $50,000 dedicated to building an addition to the Aurora Gonzales Community and Family Resource Center in Bob McCloskey’s District 3; $6,000 for roof repairs to a building in Detwiler Park, requested by District 6’s Jeanine Perry, and $5,000 for electrical work in Riverside Park, at the request of Edna Brown of District 4.

* Council wants to have a baseball stadium built downtown, they decided unanimously in a resolution last night. In May, Lucas County voters will vote on a one-quarter-cent sales tax to go toward construction of a new home for the Toledo Mud Hens, who play in Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee.

The tax would be in effect for 35 months, generating $35.4 million.

Councilman Rob Ludeman, however, was quick to point out that the resolution was simply a statement of support for “the concept” of a downtown stadium – not the tax that county commissioners hope to fund it with.

* Council voted unanimously to allow the city to begin eminent domain proceedings against U.S. Reduction Co., whose plant stands in the way of the Stickney site for the Jeep plant.

Robert Reinbolt, the Jeep project coordinator, said the city’s negotiations to buy the property have not gone well. Chrysler had asked to have the property in hand by today to begin construction.

* Council OK’d the purchase of 10 marked cruisers and 20 mid-sized sedans to replace aging Toledo police department vehicles, at a cost of $511,000.

* At the request of Mrs. Perry, council withheld action on raising green fees at public golf courses.

Mrs. Perry objected to the poor condition of a fence at Detwiler Park and asked her colleagues not to support raising fees by $1 for some tee times until she had a written cleanup plan from the city.