Council feuds with mayor on park plan; Finkbeiner refuses to fund Bowman Park

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page A13

It’s a dream that has spanned decades, and Councilwoman Tina Skeldon Wozniak thought it was close to being reached.

West Toledo’s Bowman Park, full of weeds and garbage, the source of dozens of complaints to her council office, was finally going to get fixed up. More than a dozen city employees had spent hundreds of hours creating a master plan that would make the park a recreation haven, with baseball fields, soccer fields, and a pond.

She had lined up support in key city departments, and met with the important private entities around the park, including Start High School and the YMCA. She thought she had the administration’s approval.

But Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said he was not willing to shell out public dollars to renovate the park without private support.

“Show me the private sector support, and the private sector money, and I’ll show the interest,” the mayor said. “Major park improvements require private sector support.”

Mrs. Wozniak said she was “sickened” by the mayor’s rejection. So she wants to get around it. She has lined up the support of her fellow council members to squeeze an extra $400,000 out of the capital budget.

“I’m confident we’ll get the support we need from council members,” Mrs. Wozniak said.

Councilman Bob McCloskey was more direct.

“We don’t need him to put the money into Bowman Park,” he said. “All we have to do is pull money out of every project he wants in the city of Toledo, and we’ll get it done. If that’s what it takes, that’s as far as we’ll go.”

Everyone seems to agree that the planned improvements to Bowman Park will be both wonderful and expensive. The cost of the project could reach $5 million. Soccer and baseball fields would be added, bikeways and pedestrian paths and vehicular roads would be built, and a drainage system would be added.

Bowman Park is now primarily used for baseball. It features 10 fields, but only one has lighting, rest rooms, or a grass infield. That field is used by the Start High School baseball team, which was ranked No. 1 in the country for much of last year.

But there are lots of problems. When it rains, the park does not drain well, earning it the nickname “Bowman Pond.” There have also been some concerns about crime in the park, Mrs. Wozniak said.

After years of dreaming about changes, Mrs. Wozniak, along with neighborhood activists, started working with the department of parks, recreation, and forestry to develop a plan for improvement.

SSOE Studios of Toledo helped bring the parties together to discuss what the proposed park improvements might look like.

Among the items the parks department’s proposal calls for is the purchase of an adjoining piece of land that would be converted into a new park entrance on Jack man Road.

When the parks department put together its wish list for the city’s capital budget, it included $600,000 for Bowman, including the land purchase. But the mayor decided not to include it in the budget he proposed to council.

He sent a terse, two-line memo to Mrs. Wozniak.

“Improvements will have to come from private sources in 1999,” the mayor wrote. “We have 143 parks and nowhere enough money to care for these 143.”

On Tuesday night, during his State of the City address, the mayor said one of his major goals of 1999 would be to improve the city’s parks. But he said the city already has made major commitments to other recreational facilities in West Toledo, including a planned baseball park for the Trilby Youth Sports Federation and a planned soccer complex at the former DeVilbiss High School.

Those are being done primarily with private investment, he said, and the city would not get involved in such a major park improvement without commitment from the private sector.

Mrs. Wozniak said that they are planning to seek funds from the private sector but that a corporation is much more likely to sponsor something like a new baseball field than the basic infrastructure work that needs to be done first.

“We need to get the public money to start the private money coming and to get the entire project rolling,” she said.

Mr. Finkbeiner said one of the reasons he doesn’t want to put public money into the park is that Mr. McCloskey had promised him a year ago the entire project would be funded privately. But Mr. McCloskey said the mayor isn’t telling the truth.

“I told him we were going to look for grants and private funding, but I never told him there would be no public money,” he said.

The councilman said that a baseball complex could make it possible for major tournaments to be regularly scheduled in Toledo, pumping thousands of dollars into the local economy.

“There are three major complexes run by the athletics department, and none of them are in West Toledo, the most densely populated part of the city,” Mr. McCloskey said.

Although Mrs. Wozniak said she will find the money to fund the park renovations, the mayor said that’s not possible.

“It’s not there to be found,” he said. “If they take the money from somebody else’s park, or somebody else’s renovation, then they will have to answer to those people. …At some point, you’ve got to prioritize what the community is most interested and excited about doing.”