Finkbeiner criticizes Mud Hens’ board head; Bergsmark is accused of conflict of interest

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has lashed out at the president of the Mud Hens board of directors, accusing him of a conflict of interest and a lack of devotion to May’s stadium levy campaign.

“This project is too important as part of a larger downtown revitalization to allow self-interests and personal agendas to come between what is in the best interest of the Toledo Mud Hens and our community,” Mr. Finkbeiner wrote in a letter to board President Ed Bergsmark yesterday.

The Mud Hens are seeking a new stadium for their minor league baseball team. The mayor’s letter was another salvo in the year-long blame game over who is responsible for the stadium project’s failures to this point.

Last May, Lucas County voters rejected a temporary sales tax that would have raised money for a stadium in downtown’s warehouse district.

In his letter, Mr. Finkbeiner said he has been “troubled” by Mr. Bergsmark’s stadium approaches since the levy failed.

“I did not feel that you ever really enthusiastically supported the levy,” the mayor wrote.

A Blade reporter called Mr. Bergsmark’s home last night and informed his wife about the nature of the mayor’s letter. Mr. Bergssmark did not return the phone call seeking comment.

Mr. Finkbeiner’s comments were not the first time a local official has said the team did not do its best to support a new stadium.

“The Mud Hens were not in the forefront of the issue,” County Commissioner Mark Pietrykowski said in May, after the levy failed. “But they were participants. They didn’t come forward in the beginning and say, `We need a new stadium.’ They did not initiate the whole process.”

The mayor continued his criticism of Mr. Bergsmark, saying that the team’s latest plan – to build a park on the site of the Toledo Edison Acme plant in East Toledo – misleads the public about the project’s cost.

Mr. Bergsmark estimated that an East Toledo stadium would cost local taxpayers $2 million, with the remainder coming from private and state funding. But Mr. Finkbeiner said that did not include the cost of leveling the Acme plant and preparing the site for a stadium. The mayor has said those costs will add more than $10 million to the project’s public price tag.

He criticized the team for not coming forth with a new plan for a stadium for seven months after the May levy loss. Mr. Bergsmark did not announce the East Toledo plan until last month.

“In the months since the levy’s defeat, I heard virtually nothing from the Toledo Mud Hens Board,” the mayor wrote.

Mr. Finkbeiner has said he wants a Mud Hens stadium built in the downtown warehouse district.

The mayor’s final complaint with Mr. Bergsmark is what the mayor calls a conflict of interest. Mr. Bergsmark owns 9 per cent of the Toledo Storm, the minor-league hockey team that plays in the Toledo Sports Arena. The proposed East Toledo site for a stadium is next to the Sports Arena.

“You have a conflict in making this proposal,” the mayor wrote. “If you and your board officially designate the [East Toledo] site as your sole site, you should either step down from your position as president of the Toledo Mud Hens board of directors or sell your interest in the Toledo Storm.”

Mr. Bergsmark has never said that the East Toledo site is the team’s “sole site.” In fact, he has repeatedly said it is up to county officials to deliver a site to the team, and that sites other than the team’s “preferred” site in East Toledo would be acceptable.

Mr. Bergsmark has said his part ownership of the Storm is not a conflict of interest because he owns no part of the Sports Arena. The Storm leases the arena for games.

“The only impact [having a stadium next door] might have on the Storm is our lease might go up,” Mr. Bergsmark said last month.

This was not the first time one of the three major stadium proponents – the team, the city, and the county – has blamed another for the project’s problems.

At various points, county officials have pointed the finger at the Mud Hens and the mayor. County commissioners went so far in May as to say Mr. Finkbeiner had contributed to the levy’s defeat, calling for him to reduce his role in the stadium project.

The mayor refused. He said county leaders were making the levy loss into a “circus.”

In addition, Mud Hens officials have expressed their dissatisfaction with a variety of Mr. Finkbeiner’s statements over the last year.