By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
The city’s parks, recreation, and forestry department will be moving to International Park, and some council members are raising objections.
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner is transferring the department from its Ottawa Park home and into the former Department of Environmental Services building in East Toledo. The reason: to keep a closer eye on the department.
“I want this department to be, as much as possible, under one roof, close to the rest of the administration and with increased emphasis on the waterfront,” Mr. Finkbeiner said in a letter to council President Peter Ujvagi.
The department was known as the department of natural resources until last year.
It’s the latest move in the mayor’s longtime battles with the department.
Mr. Finkbeiner has had five different natural resources directors since he took office in 1993.
Margaret Bretzloff was acting director for two years before the mayor demoted her in 1996, in what some in and out of government said was a sexist act. Her successor, Jim Barney, was demoted by the mayor in September for not whipping the department into shape.
“You’ve got an ethic or culture in place for a quarter of a century that has basically been, `Do your own thing. Don’t be too concerned about what direction you’re getting from the mayor or city council or department director,”‘ Mr. Finkbeiner said at the time of Mr. Barney’s demotion.
Mr. Barney quit rather than take a 43 per cent pay cut. Theresa Gabriel, the former commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor, was then named to the post. She said she was “not at liberty to discuss” the move and said she was directed to refer all questions to other administration officials.
The move will place the department next to the Docks development, a group of restaurants set to open in the summer, joining the Navy Bistro in International Park.
The building, while city-owned, is leased to River East Economic Revitalization Corp., which in turn has leased part of it to other businesses. Tom Kovacik, the city’s chief operating officer, said that a $1-a-year lease deal likely will be worked out with River East.
He said the move was aimed at keeping the reins tight on the department.
“Carty wanted to have the director and the top team closer to downtown,” Mr. Kovacik said. “He thought that the team needed to be together at one location for better team-building and response.
“I think he had a certain level of discomfort with the number of directors in a short period of time who couldn’t pull that team together,” Mr. Kovacik said. “He thinks he’s found the right person now.”
Councilman Bob McCloskey, who has clashed with the mayor in the past, is the chairman of council’s parks committee. He said that the move is unjustified, even if it fills a building in International Park, in his own council district.
“Theresa is doing a fantastic job,” he said. “If he doesn’t like what Theresa is doing and has to bring her close to keep a watch on her, then I don’t think anybody can do a good enough job for Carty.”
He said the Ottawa Park structure is a “very user-friendly, park-friendly building. It has been a very pleasant place to do business. Why would you take something like that out of Ottawa Park?”
Don Monroe, River East’s executive director, said that one of the future restaurants in the complex, Hoster’s Brew Pub, raised objections about the move. The restaurateurs were concerned that the city offices would close off river views for patrons, he said.
But the city has struck a deal to appease the restaurant. A corridor connecting the environmental services building and the restaurants will be torn down to open up the view and provide access to the river side of the restaurant. About 1,200 square feet will be torn down.
Mr. Monroe said that has satisfied the restaurant owners.
“There were initially concerns when we didn’t know if we were going to be able to remove the part of the building,” he said. “Now everything is fine. This doesn’t impact our development.”
But Mr. Kovacik said that the corridor removal at Hoster’s and the move back into the environmental services building were “coincidental” and were not linked.
Mr. Monroe said the restaurants likely will start opening by mid-summer. They will include Zia’s Southern Italian, Hoster’s Brew Pub, Shorty’s Top House, and The Real Seafood Co. A banquet facility, known as Cousino’s Courtyard, also will be included.
Mr. Kovacik said that the fate of the Ottawa Park facility has not been determined. He said there are no significant problems with the building, although he said there were some issues about compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
He added that the move was likely “in the works” when Mr. Barney was still the director.
Mr. Kovacik said that the move will cost about $8,000 or $9,000. Mr. McCloskey estimated the cost at $40,000 to $60,000.
The difference is significant. Under the city charter, council must approve any expenditure over $10,000. With Mr. Kovacik’s estimate, the mayor would not need to seek council approval.
The move will take place before the end of January.