Council backs project at Commodore Perry

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

Toledo council approved the renovation of the former Commodore Perry Hotel last night over the objections of members who said the administration had rushed them into an uninformed decision.

In a lengthy series of 8-4 votes, council agreed to turn over the downtown landmark to developers William and Oliver Hirt, who plan to turn the 71-year-old building into a 132-unit apartment complex.

“I’m glad it passed,” said William Hirt, vice president of the Smallridge Co. “I don’t count votes.”

The $22 million project requires the city to issue $17.7 million in municipal bonds, $10.2 million of that secured by the city’s financial backing. The remainder is secured by future revenue of the apartment complex.

The city also will loan the project $500,000 from Community Development Block Grant funds, as will the Hirts. The federal government has added $5.1 million in tax credits.

In 1996, Toledo bought the building for $10 from the Webb Corp. The deal approved last night will sell the structure to the Hirts for the same amount.

But that approval, which came at the first regular meeting of the new council elected Nov. 4, came only after significant sparring between members angry at administration officials they said didn’t have the answers they needed to make a decision.

Led by Republican Gene Zmuda, several members asked to push council’s decision back to its next scheduled meeting, Jan. 20.

Mr. Zmuda questioned the method in which the Hirts were selected to renovate the project, and whether more private-sector investment could have freed the city from having to make such a large bond issuance.

“The city continues to act as if there’s no interest in developing old downtown buildings,” he said. “I’d rather have Mr. Hirt compete with other developers so that the city gets the best deal.”

He also said the development needed to be considered in the context of other downtown developments and that the apartments could fail if the area becomes oversaturated with housing.

“While the mayor may want to put blinders on, I’m not doing my job as a councilman if I don’t find what’s best for the city,” he said.

When told the city doesn’t know how much a parking garage next to the hotel made last year, council member Jeanine Perry said it was a similar lack of oversight that allowed the Maumee mall proposed by developer George Isaac to be less than “upscale.”

Councilmen were told when they approved the sale of land to Mr. Isaac that construction on the land would not draw businesses out of Toledo malls, but the contract contained no such language.

“Maybe we would have caught that if we’d had time to closely examine the contract,” she said. “We need the extra time to look at the Commodore Perry to make sure we’re doing what’s best.”

But administration officials said pushing back the date of council’s vote would jeopardize the entire project. A deposit on a $13 million state bond issue is due in less than two weeks, and Mr. Hirt said he would not pay it unless council approved the deal immediately.

Still, Mr. Zmuda, Mrs. Perry, Republican Rob Ludeman, and Democrat Betty Shultz all supported putting off consideration and, when that failed, rejecting the proposal altogether.

Council had to approve five separate ordinances to finance the package, and Mr. Zmuda moved to delay each one, leading to a lengthy series of motions and votes, each one breaking down to the same 8-4 divide.

Mr. Hirt said construction will begin in early March. The first apartments should be rented by January, 1999.

In other action, council:

* Approved hiring Michael Beazley as assistant clerk of council for the next seven weeks. Mr. Beazley, a former chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, will train under council clerk Larry Brewer for that time, then take over Mr. Brewer’s post when he retires in March.

For those seven weeks, Mr. Beazley will be paid $9,288. When he takes over the clerkship, his annual pay will be about $69,000, Mr. Ujvagi said.

* Revised the way its committees are structured. Mr. Zmuda will chair the law and criminal justice committee, one of two offshoots of the old law and public safety committee.

Mrs. Perry, who led the committee’s previous incarnation, will head the public safety committee.

Peter Gerken was picked to replace Mrs. Shultz as chairman of the environment, utilities, and public service committee.

Mr. Ujvagi will head the economic development and planning committee.

C. Allen McConnell will lead the finance and budget committee, while Mrs. Shultz will chair a new human resources, personnel, and computerization committee.

Bob McCloskey will lead the youth and natural resources committee, and Edna Brown will chair a new panel dedicated to neighborhood development, housing, community relations, and health.