Mayor wants Hens stadium without vote; He proposes dropping rule in charter that requires OK

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wants to build a stadium without first asking voters, and he is trying to change the city charter so those voters “who might not understand the issues” don’t stand in the way of his plans.

In a speech at the Toledo Club yesterday, Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants to repeal Section 79 of the charter. That section requires any city spending on a stadium, arena, or convention center to be approved by voters.

“I think there are times for community leaders to make a decision and move forward,” he said. “Section 79 is not what a progressive city looking to the future should have as an impediment to community leaders.”

In recent weeks, Mr. Finkbeiner has introduced plans for an ice arena and SeaGate Centre expansion downtown. He is pushing for a new Mud Hens baseball stadium downtown or on the East Toledo riverfront.

Toledo voters would have to approve the charter change. The city council would have to vote to put the issue on the ballot this November.

Some council members said the move is just a way for the mayor to shove an unpopular stadium/arena proposal down the voters’ throats.

“If spending money on a baseball stadium is such a good idea, why is the mayor afraid to put it before the voters?” asked Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz.

Mr. Finkbeiner and other stadium proponents have often said that Section 79 bans any city assistance for a stadium or arena. In his speech yesterday, the mayor repeated the claim, saying the clause “prohibits the city from aiding in the construction of a convention center, arena, or stadium.”

But Section 79 does not make such a ban. It allows the city to build stadiums or arenas but requires voters to approve the project before spending money.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that although voters regularly approve funding for the Metroparks or the Toledo Zoo, they might not approve a stadium because there is less of a direct, visible benefit.

“It is a bit more of a vision of what we would like Toledo to be,” he said. “That can be a difficult thing for the average hardworking men and women of Toledo to understand.”

Without the voters’ approval, he said, the city could be free to push for projects that are unpopular but good for the city. But several council members said they would oppose putting the issue on the ballot, saying that this was an end-run for the mayor to go against the public’s wishes. Last May, Lucas County voters strongly rejected a temporary sales tax increase that would have paid for a new baseball stadium.

“Certainly, the vote last May sent a very clear signal that the citizens do not wish to be involved in the public funding of a stadium,” said Councilman Peter Gerken.

“It sounds like he is rationalizing how to get around voters on an issue he supports that failed to get the support of voters,” Councilman Gene Zmuda said.

Without any contribution from the city, Lucas County and state money funded construction of the SeaGate Centre in the 1980s. Repealing Section 79 could mean that the city could pay part of the cost of building a Mud Hens stadium, which would reduce the cost to the county.

“It would be nice to increase the size of the pie,” said county Commissioner Harry Barlos.

The clause Mr. Finkbeiner wants to remove was passed in 1973 after lobbying from Affiliated League for Equal Representation and Taxation Alliance, a taxpayer group opposed to then-Mayor Harry Kessler’s plan to build a $6.2 million convention center. Voters had a chance to repeal the clause in 1985 but voted to keep it.

The alliance was funded in large part by Virgil Gladieux, the owner of the Toledo Sports Arena, who did not want to see the city build a competitor.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he “had not thought about” the irony that Mr. Gladieux’s son, Tim, could stand to benefit from the repeal of a charter clause his father helped enact. The younger Mr. Gladieux is pushing for the city to build an ice arena to provide a home for the minor league hockey team he owns, the Toledo Storm.

Along with the stadium restriction, Section 79 limits how much the city can spend without putting a project before the voters. That limit is pegged at 15 per cent of the average city operating expenditures for the last five years, or about $30 million.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he did not know that clause was a part of Section 79 and said he “would sit down and read it” to determine whether he wanted that clause to be repealed as well.