Rossford scores coup; $48 million project includes arena for pro hockey team, amphitheater

By Joshua Benton and Michael D. Sallah
Blade Staff Writers

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Promising a $48 million investment in the region, Rossford officials announced plans to build an arena and amphitheater complex yesterday that likely will house a professional hockey team and could become the premier entertainment destination in northwest Ohio.

The facility, to be in the “Golden Triangle” at I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike, would be home to the American Hockey League affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. The team is in upstate New York.

“This is a success story for all of northwest Ohio,” said Rossford Mayor Mark Zuchowski.

The complex would pose a serious threat to the Toledo Storm, the Red Wings’ East Coast Hockey League affiliate, which has played at the aging Toledo Sports Arena in East Toledo since 1991.

And, it would hurt Toledo’s downtown revitalization plans, which counted on increased activity at the Sports Arena to draw people downtown.

Sports Arena officials have been planning major renovations of the drab, 52-year-old concrete building for years but were stymied by a legal fight between the Storm’s previous owners.

Improvements have been discussed for more than three years, but no progress has been made.

In a statement, Mayor Carty Fink beiner said he considered Rossford’s apparent victory “a good lesson for Toledo” and that it should serve as a wake-up call for Tim Gladieux, owner of the Storm and the Sports Arena.

“Tim Gladieux plans to build a new Sports Arena, and that promise is long overdue,” Mr. Fink beiner said. “The city of Toledo has promised to help him. It is time for him to deliver!”

The biggest remaining hurdle for Rossford is whether it can close a deal with the Red Wings.

Without a team for the arena, the project likely would not be built, Mr. Zuchowski said.

“There are a few pieces left in the puzzle,” he said.

The proposed Rossford facility will be managed by Olympia Entertainment, Inc., a company owned by pizza magnate Mike Illitch, who owns the Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers.

The move of the Adirondack Red Wings would mean both of Mr. Il litch’s teams would have their top minor-league affiliates in Toledo. The Toledo Mud Hens are the Triple-A farm team of the Tigers.

The arena would feature 9,200 seats for hockey games, 10,500 for basketball games, and 12,000 for concerts. Next door would be a 15,000-seat open-air amphitheater to rival the Pine Knob Music Theatre near Clarkston, Mich.

The complex would be financed by floating about $48 million in bonds, to be issued by the Rossford Arena Amphitheater Authority. Rossford city council created the authority Monday night.

Yesterday’s announcement was made nearly eight years after the Rossford Economic Growth Corporation, a public-private partnership, began exploring development possiblities for the area, which is considered one of the most desirable in the Midwest because of its location.

Mr. Gladieux said the prospect of a competitor to the south will not stop his plans to renovate the Sports Arena or build one.

“Our plans are to keep going with our plans,” he said. Ground breaking for the new Sports Arena could happen this fall, he added.

But hockey and economic development authorities said the Toledo area probably would not be able to support two minor-league hockey teams.

“Other cities, like Cincinnati, have two hockey teams, but they’re very few,” said Gary Wyse, general manager of the Sports Arena.

“I think it would be extremely difficult for this market to have two successful hockey franchises,” said Don Jakeway, president of the Regional Growth Partnership.

Mayor Zuchowski said Rossford is negotiating with the Red Wings to attract the AHL franchise to the arena, but he said no agreement has been finalized.

Red Wings spokesman John Hahn confirmed that negotiations were under way. Sources in the AHL and NHL confirmed that the two sides were on the verge of a deal to bring the team to Rossford.

It is unclear whether the team would use Toledo or Rossford in its name.

The American Hockey League is the top player-development league in hockey; its players are regularly called up to parent teams in the National Hockey League. Goaltender Chris Osgood and wingers Darren McCarty and Martin La pointe are among current Red Wings standouts who played at the team’s AHL affiliate.

In contrast, the ECHL is at the bottom of the minor-league ladder. Only two former Storm players are believed to have spent time in the NHL.

The 60-acre arena-and-amphitheater site will be the centerpiece of the “Crossroads of America” development, a leisure, retail, and business complex at the I-75 and I-80/90 intersection, Mr. Zuchowski said. Eventually, the project will include 1,200 acres.

On Monday night, the arena authority will meet to buy the 60 acres, which is under option by the Rossford Economic Growth Corporation.

The arena would be a major boon for Rossford, but for Toledo city officials, and downtown redevelopment efforts, the development is not good news.

“I would suspect that if the Sports Arena had been rebuilt already, this project wouldn’t have taken place,” said council President Peter Ujvagi.

Mr. Jakeway said delays in getting the Sports Arena renovated have allowed other proposals, like Rossford’s, to move forward.

“In hockey, as in all sports, there is competition,” he said. “And you can’t just debate. You have to do.”

If built, the arena would be “a perfect match” for the Mid-American Conference basketball tournament, Mr. Zuchowski said. MAC officials recently announced they would move the annual event from Toledo to Cleveland.

The announcement of the arena is the latest in several proposals for the site in the heart of what is known as the Golden Triangle south of Toledo.

In 1992, developer Brian Mc Mahon talked to then-Governor Voinovich about the possibility of trying to attract a Disney park to the area.

Two years later, the growth partnership hired a Florida consulting team to come up with various uses for the property, including entertainment and theme park possibilities.

In 1997, Bowling Green lawyer Bill Caughey tried to lure the Ottawa Indian tribe of Oklahoma to this area to start a super bingo and souvenir center that would attract people from miles around.

But news of the efforts for that project reached the governor, who wrote letters to federal officials asking them to turn down any such application.

Two years ago, the private-public partnership tried to entice the Storm and its then-owner, Barry Soskin, to move the team to the land controlled by the Rossford group.

At the time, Mr. Soskin was in a standoff with the Gladieux family over improvements the team owner said were needed at the Sports Arena.

Mr. Soskin said at the time he was “willing to consider other options,” but he later said he favored a downtown Toledo site and was willing to stay in the same facility as long as it was renovated.

Last year, Mr. Soskin sold the team to Mr. Gladieux and five other business leaders.

When he was considering the purchase, Mr. Gladieux specifically asked Red Wings officials whether they were planning to bring another minor-league team into the Toledo market.

“They said they weren’t going to do it,” Mr. Gladieux said. “I’m not sure why they had a change of heart.”

He said yesterday he heard about the possible move through the media, not from the Red Wings.

“We’re a little surprised by the announcement,” he said. “We’re pretty far along with our planning process, and we’re planning to go forward.”

Toledo’s city coffers stand to benefit from development in the Golden Triangle.

The area is part of a joint economic development zone among Toledo, Rossford, and Perrysburg Township. Toledo provides water and sewer services to the land, fewer than four miles from downtown Toledo.

As a result, Toledo would receive 0.651 per cent of the payroll generated in the area.

Mr. Zuchowski estimated that, once the Crossroads area is completely developed, the tax could bring up to $500,000 a year to Toledo.

Mr. Zuchowski said Mr. Mc Mahon has been involved in the arena project since its inception, but mostly in acquiring properties for retail use. He is not involved in the arena or amphitheater, the mayor said.

The Adirondack Red Wings play at the Civic Center in Glens Falls, N.Y., a city of 17,000. Attendance this year has hovered around 3,500 fans a game, 16th out of 19 AHL teams.

In recent years, the AHL has created franchises in major cities such as Cincinnati and Louisville.

In contrast, the Storm attracts about 4,800 fans per game, one of the stronger performers in the ECHL.

Mr. Gladieux said the younger ECHL players play a more aggressive, less polished style of hockey that has helped attracted thousands of local fans to the Sports Arena.

“The play is more conducive to more mistakes, more excitement than in the AHL,” he said. “We can offer lower ticket prices and family entertainment.”

Tickets for Storm games range from $7.50 to $12. For games at Glens Falls, tickets range from $8.50 to $11.50.

Mr. Gladieux said plans for the renovations or new construction will be set within 120 days.

By that time, work on the Rossford arena should be under way. In fact, workers are clearing the land where the arena is to be built.

Blade sports writer Dave Woolford contributed to this report.