Downtown health club proposed; Plan would use part of HyTower

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

Downtown Toledo could become noticeably healthier soon: a group of Michigan companies is hoping to open a full-service health club on the bottom floors of the Fiberglas Tower.

“We think it would be a great thing for the community,” said Lou Eyde, a partner in Lansing-based Eyde Co., which owns the tower. “We know there is a need in downtown Toledo, and we want to fill it.”

The project would involve converting two or three floors of the Fiberglas Tower – now known as the HyTower – into a facility with a pool, a running track, and a complete gymnasium. Its biggest remaining hurdle, according to project leaders: getting the city to approve the project and provide unspecified economic assistance.

Along with Mr. Eyde, project partners would include the architectural firm Hobbs & Black, and MedSports, a company that operates several health club facilities in the Midwest.

“We want to get the ball rolling now,” said Tom Stokes, vice president of the Ann Arbor-based Hobbs & Black. “The Fiberglas Tower is an optimal site.”

Project leaders said that city officials have so far been sympathetic to their efforts. Mr. Stokes said that downtown development director Tara Barney had made a “verbal agreement” to give project leaders support.

Ms. Barney said yesterday that the city is “very interested in their concept. And the Eydes have been very aggressive, and that is very appealing.” But she said, until solid cost estimates are available, no proposal could become the city’s favorite.

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has repeatedly stated that one of his top priorities for downtown revitalization is the creation of a downtown health club facility. He is traveling in Honduras for the remainder of the week and could not be reached for comment.

Eyde Co. has experience with putting athletic facilities on its properties. It owns the property in East Lansing, Mich., on which the Michigan Athletic Club sits. The MAC has more than 9,000 members and more than 300,000 square feet of space.

“We’ve got the Michigan State athletic director as a member,” Mr. Eyde said.

Hobbs & Black has worked on more than a dozen athletic facilities across Michigan, including the Detroit Pistons practice facility and the Sports and Special Events Arena at Eastern Michigan University. MedSports operates several facilities around Michigan, including the MAC.

Mr. Stokes said his office presented the idea for the project to Eyde Co., which then took it to city officials.

He said the Fiberglas Tower location is good because of its proximity to businesses along Summit, St. Clair, and Superior streets, as well as apartment buildings such as the LaSalle and the Commodore Perry.

Eyde Co. also owns the former Toledo Trust building, once Ohio’s tallest structure, and plans to turn it into housing. That building’s residents would be near the proposed facility.

But Mr. Stokes did say he would be willing to consider other locations around downtown.

He said the next step is a larger study on how the facility would fare economically downtown. He said it is normal for downtown facilities to lose money in their first few years, so the study would determine how big those losses would be and how much assistance the health club would need from local officials.

“It might mean financing from the port [the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority], or grants from the city,” Mr. Stokes said.

Mr. Stokes and Mr. Eyde said a club could be in operation within a year.

One potential hitch: Mr. Stokes said he isn’t sure whether the city has decided to press for another health club site.

Last week, Mr. Finkbeiner began pushing for a new ice arena to be built downtown, next door to the SeaGate Centre. Some downtown leaders, including Sports Arena owner Tim Gladieux and Jim Donnelly, president of the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, have said that a health club could be located in the arena complex.

Ms. Barney said an arena site is an appealing option. She said the prospect of having Toledo Storm hockey players using the facility alongside nonathletes might appeal to some. But she emphasized that the key factor in the success of a downtown facility would be how close it is to downtown workers seeking to work out at lunchtime.

“It’s got to be walkable by the noontime user,” she said.

She said “three or four” concepts have promise, but none of them has cost estimates.

Council faces late decisions on budget

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Less than 24 hours before it meets to adopt the city’s 1999 budget, the Toledo city council learned what unfilled jobs the administration wants to eliminate.

When the council meets this afternoon, it will deal with a flurry of new information from the city administration – from new revenue to new costs – that has altered Toledo’s budget picture. “We’ve been asking for this information for weeks, and now we get it less than 24 hours before we have to make a final decision,” said council President Peter Ujvagi.

Most of the new information presented at yesterday’s committee meeting has been hashed out in negotiations throughout the last week and likely will have little trouble getting the approval of the council and administration. But two issues remain contentious:

* The size of the police department’s rookie class. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has insisted that the class, which was to begin last month, have 15 members. Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz, up for election in May, has pushed for 30 members to offset the 30 or more officers expected to retire in 1999.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s original proposal was paid for by delaying the class. If the class began in July instead of February, he said, the salary savings could be used to hire more officers. But in the administration proposal given to the council yesterday, those savings were applied elsewhere: to help pay for the city’s share of putting police officers in public schools.

Council members have countered with their own proposal. They suggest that by shifting the city’s rent payments for One Government Center from the city’s general fund to its capital improvement fund, $375,000 could be freed to pay for the larger class and other items. The council is expected to approve that shift at tonight’s meeting, although the mayor could later veto it.

* Eliminating 21 city positions. The idea of eliminating jobs isn’t new; the mayor’s preliminary budget estimated about 30 positions would be cut, and 58 jobs have been dropped in the last two budget years. But council members were angry because the ad ministration had never detailed which, exactly, of the more than 40 unfilled city jobs would be cut.

The positions are all vacant, so no layoffs would be required. Among the positions slated to be cut: a senior attorney in the law department, a park planner, and six communication operators for the police department.

Mr. Ujvagi said the council may try to pass the budget today without outlining which positions will be eliminated.

“We may not be able to get enough information in time to decide what is the best course for the city,” he said.

Some of the other last-minute shifts in the city’s budget:

* A $250,000 expense to pay for the city’s extra use of the Lucas County jail.

* More than $20,000 to pay for a new planner for the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commissions.

* A projected $750,000 from reduced workers compensation premiums and reduced claim levels.

Several council members were angered by the sudden nature of the changes. Councilwoman Edna Brown criticized the city’s decision to cut the overtime budget for Municipal Court without telling court clerk Maggie Thurber.

City officials defended themselves by saying the process had been rushed by the council’s expedited timetable. State law required that the city pass its balanced budget by the end of the month.

The council will meet at 1 p.m. to consider more budgetary matters, then have its regular meeting at 4 p.m., which Mr. Ujvagi warned could last past midnight.

Toledo ready to approve 1999 budget

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 9

The Toledo city council’s last two months of work will finally pay off tomorrow, when the panel is expected to pass the city’s 1999 budget.

Since January, the council’s committees have held hearings on Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s proposed $374 million budget.

Council members have made some small changes from the mayor’s proposal, Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz said, but “there haven’t been too many deviations.”

Among the changes: adding an economic development director for neighborhood developments, and increasing the size of this year’s police class from 15 to 30.

But at least one potential hurdle remains. The city’s finance department is expected to present revised revenue estimates today, which could mean the council would have to reduce spending just a day before it plans to pass the budget.

The council will have a committee-of-the-whole meeting at 3 p.m. today to consider any last-minute changes.

The council staff said they had hoped to get the revised estimates on Friday, so members could have the weekend to examine the numbers and know what cuts, if any, would be needed. But the estimates had not arrived by the close of business Friday.

State law requires the city to pass its budget by March 31.

At its Tuesday meeting, the council will consider:

* Approving the start of eminent domain proceedings against a fourth homeowner on the site of the new Jeep plant. The council had its first hearing of the resolution at its last meeting. The parcel in question, located at 3714 Nearing Ave., belongs to Melvin Robie.

* Spending $100,000 on community recreation programs and $35,000 for the Young Artists At Work program. Both sums would come from the interest generated by the Toledo Cityparks Trust Fund.

* Spending up to $60,900 to hire the law firm of Marshall & Mellhorn to assist the city in this year’s labor negotiations. Most of the city’s contracts with its labor unions expire this year, and Mr. Finkbeiner has stressed his desire to lower the city’s personnel costs.

Turf battles led local officials to drop ball on Mud Hens park

By Joshua Benton and Mike Wilkinson
Blade Staff Writers

Page A1

It was the first time – but not the last – that Toledo’s leadership made a promise it could not keep regarding the Mud Hens’ stadium.

Amid fanfare and with the promise of results, more than two dozen local leaders gathered in November, 1994, to proclaim that within eight months they would find a home for Toledo’s minor league baseball team.

Now, after more than four years and countless bitter exchanges, a stadium is no closer to completion. At least four possible sites and three potential ways to pay for them have been proposed, and there is no agreement on any of it.

“They should have been breaking ground on this by spring,” Ray Kest, Lucas County treasurer, said yesterday.

Instead, city and county leaders reached a minor consensus late last week: The county will hire an experienced stadium consultant to conduct another study. They say the move to get Cleveland attorney Thomas Chema on board is a sign of progress.

But his hiring will do little to undo the years of bickering that have caused repeated delays. He will be profiting – to the tune of more than $15,000 a month – from the leadership’s inability to agree on anything.

“I really think we look foolish, because it seems like up until today, nobody has seemed to be working together,” said Rob Ludeman, District 2 councilman.

Among the biggest reasons for the setbacks:

* Lucas County Commissioner Sandy Isenberg has said the stadium is just not a priority. Considering that the county owns the Mud Hens’ current home and would be the agency building the new ballpark, that’s a serious hurdle for stadium proponents.

* County residents have not rallied behind a stadium downtown. Polls have shown they don’t want to spent much money for a ballpark, and the current Maumee location is more convenient for many of them than downtown would be. And the one time county voters had a chance to give the project their approval, they rejected it by more than 15,000 votes.

* The men and women with the most power – Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, Ms. Isenberg, and the Mud Hens board – have spent much of their time bickering among themselves. An astonishing array of spats, from stadium naming rights to political ego clashes, have drained energy and unity from the push.

“Jealousies, turf protection,” Mr. Kest said, are at the root of the standstill.

Now the stadium – projected in 1996 to be the site of baseball games by 2000 – won’t be built until at least 2002.

Last month, area officials were stunned by the news coming out of Rossford, a town of just 6,000 about four miles south of downtown. There, officials announced they had put together a package to build a $48-million arena-amphitheater complex near I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike. A minor league hockey team from upstate New York is expected to move into the new arena in 2000.

While the project had been in the works for more than seven years and still isn’t completed, Toledo civic leaders were amazed at the ease at which their suburban neighbors seemed to be moving forward with their plans.

Without the announcement of Rossford’s grand plan, Mr. Ludeman said city and county officials still would be at odds.

“I think they’d still be fighting,” Mr. Ludeman said. “Unfortunately, that’s the way things are in city politics right now.”

Even state leaders took note of the lack of a local consensus. When the state’s capital budget was passed in November, no money was allocated for the stadium. The reason: lawmakers said the county gave no signal that it really wanted the project.

But on Friday, Mr. Finkbeiner and Ms. Isenberg seemed to reach some sort of agreement on one issue. Both are promoting a new “vision” of a baseball stadium in East Toledo and an ice arena in downtown, attached to the SeaGate Centre, the downtown convention center.

Mayor Finkbeiner, after years of chiding Ms. Isenberg, hailed her as having “projected a vision.”

But that vision, like so many other reports, commissions, and proposals, cannot disguise the fact that the team won’t be coming downtown anytime soon. Years of infighting have pushed the project back.

For example:

* In October, 1995, Ms. Isenberg chided Mr. Finkbeiner for mailing requests for proposals to 37 stadium consultants across the country, saying she wondered whether the public even wanted a stadium.

Under the city charter, no city funds can go toward the construction of a stadium without a vote of the people.

* In May, after voters rejected a sales tax hike that would have paid for a stadium, Ms. Isenberg said she no longer wanted Mr. Finkbeiner to be a leader in the stadium effort. She said Mr. Finkbeiner’s high profile hurt the levy’s chances with suburban voters.

Issue 9, which proposed a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for a downtown stadium, was crushed in most suburbs. Overall, nearly 60 per cent of voters in Lucas County rejected the levy.

* Less than a month ago, Ms. Isenberg lashed out at the mayor again for offering to sell naming rights to the new stadium to DaimlerChrysler officials. The commissioner said that the naming rights weren’t Mr. Finkbeiner’s to sell.

“The audacity of your offering `naming rights’ to a Lucas County facility is beyond comprehension,” she wrote in a letter to the mayor.

In addition, team leaders have traded barbs with both city and county leaders.

While the city’s top business and political leaders have been near unanimous in pushing for a downtown site, city residents have been a bit more skeptical.

Polls have regularly shown a reluctance to spend public dollars on new stadiums.

And Lucas County is not just Toledo. The county has 130,000 residents outside the city limits, not to mention the thousands of Toledoans who live closer to the team’s current Maumee site than they do to downtown. And historically, those suburbanites vote more often than those closer to downtown.

The newest appointment to the three-member Lucas County commission is Harry Barlos, a former Maumee mayor who has said he wants to look at keeping the team at its Maumee location. He also suggested consider the construction of a stadium in Monclova Township.

Sports economists who have studied new stadiums are nearly unanimous that they do not have the broad economic impact that city leaders promise before construction. The Mud Hens are the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.

Much of the conflict between Mr. Finkbeiner and Ms. Isenberg has stemmed from the fact that they serve different political constituencies and have viewed the project with different priorities.

Mr. Finkbeiner has repeatedly called a stadium “the most important project for downtown’s revitalization” and considers it perhaps his administration’s top priority after the new Jeep plant under construction in Toledo.

Ms. Isenberg – who faced no opposition in her re-election campaign in November and who is elected by both Toledoans and suburbanites – doesn’t see the stadium as nearly as important.

In an interview in January, she listed her top priorities for the new year: a 911 communications center, a juvenile justice detention center, and a new Sixth District Court of Appeals building.

“Those are, in fact, priorities,” she said. “Those issues come way ahead of a Mud Hens stadium. The Mud Hens stadium is not a priority. It’s an `also.”‘

Without any consensus from local leaders, the county commissioners have decided to hire Mr. Chema to lead the project. He led the push for Jacobs Field and Gund Arena in Cleveland by working quietly behind the scenes, and local officials hope he’ll be able to do the same in Toledo. Mr. Finkbeiner had advocated bringing Mr. Chema in on the project as far back as 1995.

At least four sites are being considered: the warehouse district at the south end of downtown, the East Toledo riverfront, along I-475 in Monclova Township, and the current location.

And at the moment, at least three funding proposals are competing, one each from the Mud Hens, the city, and Mr. Kest.

Mr. Kest hopes Mr. Chema can cut through the confusion and achieve some sort of consensus. “Hiring Chema will stop the infighting,” he said.

Mr. Chema has said he thinks he can get more than $5 million in state funding lined up and promises to find financing, choose a site, and develop community support – all in seven to 12 months.

But that, of course, was the unkept promise of the Toledo Regional Sports Facility Committee when it met on Nov. 10, 1994. It’s something local leaders have been promising for almost five years.

Blade senior staff writers Michael D. Sallah and Homer Brickey contributed to this report.

Mayor conditionally will OK east-side site for Mud Hens; Ice arena, SeaGate must link

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

In a remarkable reversal, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner is now willing to put a Mud Hens stadium in East Toledo – but only if an ice arena is built downtown, attached to SeaGate Centre.

The blockbuster proposal ties together many of the last year’s most controversial issues: the location of a Mud Hens stadium, the proposed construction of two competing ice arenas, and the push for a downtown health club.

And it does it in a way that could please a diverse group of political constituencies, from East Toledo politicians to downtown advocates.

Yesterday the mayor sent letters to more than three dozen city and county leaders, with drawings of a “vision as to what this might look like.”

The vision has two parts:

* A Mud Hens stadium on the site of the Toledo Sports Arena on Main Street on the East Toledo riverfront.

* An ice arena, bounded by Monroe, Washington, Summit, and Superior streets, and attached to SeaGate by a walking bridge over Monroe.

In his letter, Mr. Finkbeiner emphasized that the proposal needs more study. On Thursday, Sandy Isenberg, president of the Lucas County commissioners, said she will ask consultant Tom Chema to study the possibility of a downtown ice arena. He has been appointed to lead the baseball stadium project.

But Mr. Finkbeiner said it is important that the city’s sports facility plans extend well beyond simply building a stadium. He said they must meet “the needs of the SeaGate Centre, the Toledo Mud Hens, and the Sports Arena.”

“I believe that Commissioner Isenberg has projected a vision that meets the needs of all three entities, as well as baseball fans, hockey fans, conventioneers, and businesses serving the general public on both the east and west banks of the Maumee River,” he wrote.

The mayor’s vision, at this point, does not include any details about how much two facilities will cost or where the money will come from.

But it will solve one nagging problem that has been haunting both facilities’ future: the cost of land acquisition.

To assemble the warehouse-district site that Mr. Finkbeiner has long favored for the Mud Hens stadium would mean buying up land from more than a dozen property owners.

Their reluctance to sell at a low price could add more than $10 million to the stadium project, city leaders have said.

And the previous East Toledo Mud Hens proposal would put the stadium on the site of the Acme power station, an old industrial plant that could cost more than $10 million to tear down.

The latest proposal Mr. Finkbeiner made avoids those problems. The proposed arena site is on land owned by Lucas County and used primarily for parking.

The proposed stadium site is owned by Tim Gladieux, owner of the Sports Arena.

SeaGate officials – who have long pushed for an expansion – were excited by the possibility of an arena next door.

“We could use it for exhibits, rallies, anything,” said Jim Donnelly, president of the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, which operates the convention center. “It would be a big draw for downtown and would really make it a vibrant place again.”

The new arena effectively would replace the 52-year-old Sports Arena, which received a blow last month when Rossford officials announced plans to build a $48 million arena-amphitheater complex in the suburbs. Rossford officials are assembling the project’s financing package.

Mr. Gladieux immediately announced plans to build a modern Sports Arena to compete with Rossford’s, but he has not announced a site or financing plans.

Yesterday Mr. Gladieux said he was “intrigued and excited” by the idea of an arena attached to the convention center and said he could be convinced to abandon his own East Toledo construction plans if Mr. Chema says the downtown arena makes sense.

“There’s a lot of studying left to be done. But if it looks like a good idea, we would certainly commit our resources to it,” he said.

He said the arena could be a “public-private partnership” of an undetermined sort. Mr. Finkbeiner made a similar statement in his letter. Both men said Mr. Chema’s guidance would determine what sort of development will be planned.

Mr. Chema did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The mayor’s decision to push an East Toledo site for the Mud Hens stadium is a reversal of his earlier stances.

For years – ever since it became clear that the county was interested in building a home for the Mud Hens – Mr. Finkbeiner has been adamant that it should be built in downtown’s warehouse district. Only with a downtown stadium, he said, could the city center be revitalized.

But in December, team officials announced they want the ballpark built in East Toledo along the Maumee River near the Sports Arena. The mayor repeatedly said an east-side site would be a bad choice, in large part because the Toledo Edison Acme plant would have to be torn down to make way for the stadium. That, the mayor said, would add millions of dollars to the project.

Putting the ballpark on the Sports Arena site eliminates that problem, but it could create a new one: the view from the seats. Instead of the downtown skyline vistas promised by the Acme site, the main view from the Sports Arena site would be of the Acme plant itself.

In a statement issued last night, Mr. Finkbeiner said he still prefers the warehouse-district site for a stadium if no arena is built. But swapping the arena and stadium sites is an “interesting possibility,” he wrote.

Another possibility, according to Mr. Gladieux and Mr. Donnelly: placing a downtown health club on the arena’s grounds. Mr. Donnelly said many convention hotels have health facilities and said putting one in the arena would be a “real added draw.”

“I could see where this would really breathe life back into downtown,” Mr. Gladieux said.

“I think it’s a good idea that warrants further study,” he said.

Mr. Donnelly said that a 12,000-seat arena attached to the convention center could cost in the area of $25 million to $30 million. The site on which it would sit is the equivalent of two standard downtown city blocks.

Sports economists have said that a market the size of Toledo could not support two new arenas. Mr. Donnelly said he thought that is probably true of freestanding arenas, but tying the downtown arena to the convention center provides instant benefits.

“The two could share staff, share equipment, marketing, personnel,” he said.

“There would be real synergies between the two,” he said.

Mr. Donnelly said the SeaGate is “at capacity right now” and needs to expand to attract larger conventions.

He said that SeaGate’s convention business alone could keep the attached arena in use for 40 to 50 days a year. That would be important because sports economists generally say that an arena needs to be in use 180 to 200 days a year to be profitable, and two arenas in the same market would be competing tooth and nail for events.

Mr. Gladieux estimated that the downtown arena could bring 1 million people downtown each year, causing spin-off business for bars, restaurants, and other downtown businesses.

Dr. Dennis Howard, a sports economist at the University of Oregon who studies arena and stadium construction, said that arenas tied into convention centers have done “a much better job” of creating spin-off economic development than stadiums.

“For a baseball game, people drive to the ballpark, go to the game, eat some hot dogs, and go home,” he said.

“Convention traffic brings in a lot of people who stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, drink at bars, and bring a lot of money into the community that wouldn’t otherwise be there.”

Mr. Chema has done dual arena/stadium projects before. He led the Gateway project in Cleveland, which led to the construction of Jacobs Field for baseball and Gund Arena for basketball. Both facilities suffered extreme cost overruns.

The mayor’s proposed arena site would require one bit of land acquisition for parking, but it is one that downtown advocates have been pushing for years.

The arena site sketches put parking on the block bounded by Superior, Huron, Washington, and Monroe streets – a block that houses four adult entertainment bars.

“I think it would be great if we could use this to clean up that area,” Mr. Donnelly said.

Ex-council member June Boyd again goes to bankruptcy court

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 14B

June Boyd, the former Toledo council member whose political career has been plagued with financial problems, has filed for bankruptcy for the second time.

Ms. Boyd, who represented District 1 on council from 1993 to 1997, made the filing in federal court on Tuesday. She reported assets of $1,250 and debts of more than $62,000. Among her debts: $21,697 in unpaid taxes, $2,169 in phone bills, and $550 for car rental.

Ms. Boyd said she was “forced to file” for bankruptcy because of bills resulting from a 1996 auto accident. She also filed for bankruptcy in 1988.

She, along with Councilwoman Edna Brown, was the first black woman ever elected to city council. But Ms. Boyd’s term was haunted by financial problems. She has been the defendant in at least 17 civil lawsuits for nonpayment of debt.

Two years ago, she bounced a check meant to pay for her personal mortgage. The check was drawn from her campaign checking account, which state ethics officials said is not allowed.

In 1997, Ms. Boyd was not endorsed by the Lucas County Democratic Party, despite being active in the party for nearly 40 years. She lost her bid for re-election to then-Toledo Public Schools board member Wilma Brown.

In November, Ms. Boyd was hired by the city of Toledo as an administrative specialist in the city’s affirmative action department. Her salary there is $35,000 a year. Working at the job for two years will qualify her for a full state pension.

She is heading the drive to create a Toledo Museum of African-American History.

Toledo tax chief wants software to catch cheats

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Toledo tax evaders, you’ve been put on notice: Pay up, or the city will use a high-tech tool to get you.

If city council approves the 1999 budget Tuesday, as expected, the city’s taxation division will receive $40,000 for a software package officials say will help them more easily find those skipping out on local income tax – and generate more for the city’s coffers.

“We’re not collecting as much money as we’d like to,” Gene Borton, the city’s tax commissioner, said. “And we think this will help.”

The city has a 2.25 per cent payroll tax, which is supposed to be deducted from paychecks by employers. But some residents and businesses don’t own up to their full income, failing to include items like rental income or self-employment revenue. Mr. Borton estimates that between 5 and 10 per cent of Toledoans don’t pay their full city tax, or pay none at all.

That total probably runs into the millions of dollars, he said, although there’s no way to be sure.

One of the easiest ways to catch those scofflaws is to compare the Internal Revenue Service’s records against the city’s. If someone filed a federal return but didn’t pay any Toledo tax, it’s a red flag, Mr. Borton said.

Beginning in 1992, the IRS sent the city massive amounts of computerized data to check against its own records.

Initially, the city found hundreds of conflicts between the two sets of records. As a result of the checks, the city collected more than $1 million in delinquent taxes in 1994, Mr. Borton said.

But about three years ago, the IRS began sending the city its data in an unwieldy, complex format that couldn’t be analyzed easily.

Last year, because of technical difficulties, the city was only able to cross-check about 30 per cent of taxpayers’ records. Each one had to be printed out and hand-checked by employees.

That low-tech method brought in only about $600,000 in unpaid taxes, Mr. Borton said.

The proposed software system will allow the cross-checking be done by a computer instead of employees.

The software’s maker, Data Compression Technology of Minneapolis, has sold its program to six states and three cities, including Cleveland, which will start using it later this year, according to Don Pehta, the company’s vice president for marketing.

The program works by compressing the data to less than a tenth of its size, allowing tax record checks to be done much more quickly and efficiently, he said.

Mr. Borton was hesitant to estimate how much additional revenue the city would stand to gain from using the software package, but he said he believed the city probably would return to the $1 million-a-year totals, and perhaps generate significantly more – an important possibility for a city facing tight budgets for at least the next several years.

Mr. Pehta said that the average government using the software has seen its delinquent tax revenues go up by about 24 per cent.

One of the firm’s clients discovered one $600,000 unpaid tax bill through their software, Mr. Pehta said. Other jurisdictions have “paid for the software many times over,” he said.

Barring a surprise removal of the funding from this year’s budget, Mr. Borton said he hoped to have the software installed by June, in time for use on this fall’s IRS data.

New arena may make ‘greatest’ greater yet; Circus would return more often to Toledo

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

The circus is coming to town, but it would come more often if it didn’t have to play in the Toledo Sports Arena.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – a.k.a. The Greatest Show on Earth – will return to the Sports Arena June 12-16 for the first time in five years. But it likely will be without its human cannonball and other acts because of the arena’s low ceiling.

“For years, we’ve bypassed Toledo because we’ve had trouble fitting into the arena,” said Jeff Meyer, the circus’s vice president for field marketing and sales. “The building has real physical limitations.”

Last month, the Sports Arena’s owner and Ross ford officials each announced plans for arenas that could hold the full circus. Mr. Meyer said construction of either would encourage the circus to return more often.

But he said the Rossford plan might be more encouraging, because the circus has an excellent working relationship with Olympia Entertainment, Inc., which would run the suburban arena.

“Certainly, in the long term, I think your community has struck on a reasonable answer” to the Sports Arena’s problems, Mr. Meyer said. “If Olympia was running the arena, we’d be very interested in coming back on an annual basis.”

The last time the circus came to town was in 1994, when it played to more than 45,000 fans. Circus officials said they would play Toledo more often but for the Sports Arena’s size. “The question becomes, do we even want to come back if it means removing parts of the performance?” Mr. Meyer said.

Last month, Rossford officials announced plans for a $48 million arena and amphitheater complex near the intersection of I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike.

Sports Arena owner Tim Gladieux countered the next day with plans to build a $42 million arena on the Sports Arena site in East Toledo.

In 1994, the circus canceled the human cannonball, restricted trapeze artists from doing certain moves, and lowered the high-wire act to about half its normal height. The same adjustments likely will be made this year, Mr. Meyer said, “unless we find some creative solutions to the challenges the arena presents.”

Gary Wyse, the Sports Arena’s general manager, said he was excited by the return of the Greatest Show On Earth. He said the Royal Hanneford Circus, which performed in November, was able to use its human cannonball act.

Mud Hens make changes in quest for new ballpark

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

The Toledo Mud Hens, in the middle of their quest for a new stadium, will have a new day-to-day team leader when they hit the field this spring.

Joe Napoli, 34, has been promoted from executive director to general manager. The team’s former general manager, Gene Cook, 67, has been named the team’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity,” Mr. Napoli, 34, said. “There are a lot of great new ideas that we’re going to try out.”

Mr. Cook, 67, has been general manager since 1978. He was a Toledo city councilman for 30 years, and he was president of council when he retired in 1997. He is a member of the five-person Mud Hens board of directors.

“It’s no big deal with me,” Mr. Cook said. “They’re just titles, we’re all still working for the team.”

Earlier this year, amid controversy about the makeup of the Mud Hens board, Mr. Cook offered to step down from the board. Five white men comprise the Mud Hens board, and board chairman Ed Bergs mark later decided to expand the board to include a woman and a member of a minority group. At the time, Mr. Bergsmark said Mr. Cook was put on the team’s board to allow Mr. Napoli to take over the general manager’s role.

“That was the logic to putting Gene on the board,” he said. “You have a guy with 20-some years experience on the ballclub who gives great counsel.”

In a statement yesterday, Mr. Bergsmark said Mr. Cook “will provide guidance” on the new ballpark.

He added: “With a new stadium on the horizon, we want to assure the community that we have the key executives in place.”

Board member Dave Huey said Mr. Cook and Mr. Napoli “will work together, with Gene’s experience and relationships in the community and Joe’s new thought processes on how to make things more fan-friendly. Gene will be very active as chief operating officer.”

Mr. Napoli is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and a graduate of St. John’s University. He previously worked for the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Tigers. He has worked for the Mud Hens 2 1/2 years.

He said he would push for greater community outreach and marketing as general manager.

In other moves, the team named Michael Miller its new team president.

Mr. Miller, executive vice president of Fifth Third Bank, had been the board’s vice president. He takes the title from Mr. Bergs mark, who had been both board chairman and team president.

The team made the announcements before a meeting with the three Lucas County commissioners to discuss the results of the team’s annual audit. Team officials refused to make copies of the audit public.

Observers see numerous options open to Sports Arena’s Gladieux

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A9

So, what’s next for the Toledo Sports Arena?

Owner Tim Gladieux has announced plans to build an arena, but has been mum on details. According to experts, here are some of the options he is probably considering:

* He could build an arena and tear down the old one.

On Feb. 27, Mr. Gladieux promised to build an ice palace that would be the envy of the suburbs. But Sports Arena officials have no site plan or financing set up, and sports economists say that if the Rossford development goes forward, a new arena in East Toledo would make little economic sense.

“I don’t think having two facilities going for the same market is very advantageous for either,” said Temple University professor Michael Leeds.

If the Rossford project runs into problems, though – difficulties in finding buyers for its bond issue, for example, or trouble landing the Red Wings affiliate that would be its major tenant – a new Sports Arena becomes a stronger proposition.

Mr. Gladieux said he hopes to get his project started before Rossford does, believing that such a move would cause the suburb to cancel its plans. Rossford officials say that won’t happen.

* The Sports Arena could continue in its current state, featuring Storm hockey and a mix of concerts, circuses, and car shows.

The arena stands to lose some of its business to the Rossford development, including some acts that found the Sports Arena small or its equipment obsolete. And its major tenant, the Storm, would face a serious threat from a Red Wings affiliate.

The Sports Arena could still count on hosting some acts, such as rock bands that can’t attract the 12,000 seats projected for the Rossford arena in its concert seating, according to promoters.

“The larger the arena, the bigger the act you need to fill the place,” said John Nittolo, a New Jersey promoter who will bring about 15 shows to Toledo this year.

* The Sports Arena could be turned over to developers, who could turn the building into something else entirely.

Despite the occasionally troublesome Maumee River bridges and less-than-ideal neighborhood, the Sports Arena sits on some of the most valuable real estate in Toledo. City officials are virtually drooling over the possibilities for the site.

“I think it could become the entertainment center of the community,” said Barry Broome, the city’s director of development. “It’s sound and it’s sturdy, so you could make it into whatever you wanted.”

Converting vacant East Toledo shells into entertainment destinations is something with which the city has experience. A former city vehicle storage building has been converted into the Navy Bistro restaurants and several other eateries are scheduled to open this year.

One idea: turning the arena into a multiplex movie theatre. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner made that suggestion in a letter he wrote to Mr. Gladieux last month.

In the mid 1980s, when construction of the SeaGate Centre threatened the Sports Arena’s convention business, the Toledo-Lucas County Convention & Visitors Bureau rallied behind a proposal to tear down the Sports Arena and erect high-rise condominium towers on the site. A site plan done by SSOE, Inc., proposed three 12-story buildings with a total of 224 condo units.

Since then, city officials have pushed for high-rise housing to be placed in the downtown, in buildings such as the LaSalle, the Commodore Perry, and the Hillcrest. Mr. Broome said he didn’t think the Toledo condo market would allow the 1980s plan to go forward.