By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
On the day most major league baseball teams threw out the first pitch, local leaders made their own pitch: how to build a ballpark for the Toledo Mud Hens.
At yesterday’s weekly luncheon meeting of the Toledo Rotary Club, four panelists – Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, Lucas County commission president Sandy Isenberg, Mud Hens board president Ed Bergsmark, and consultant Tom Chema – batted around their stadium ideas, for the most part reiterating previously aired points of view.
But they made some efforts at reconciliation. Mr. Finkbeiner, Ms. Isenberg, and Mr. Bergsmark have argued over a variety of points in the past, disputes that some say have delayed the stadium project by months or years.
Yesterday, all four said they were working together to get a stadium built, probably in the downtown area.
“When you have significant egos and personalities, you’re always going to have disagreements,” Ms. Isenberg said. “But I think we’re on the same page.”
Mr. Bergsmark even remarked after a comment from the mayor: “I never thought I’d say I agree with you.”
All parties are looking toward Mr. Chema to create a consensus on the divisive location and financing issues that have plagued the project.
Mr. Chema, the Cleveland-based lawyer responsible for that city’s Jacobs Field and Gund Arena, has been hired by the county to jumpstart the project.
He said he is looking at stadiums in Akron and Indianapolis as potential models for the stadium he wants to build in Toledo.
Although he has not decided on a site for the Mud Hens park, he said he leans toward downtown locations.
“We’ve got, the last time I counted, 42 new businesses within two blocks of second base” of Jacobs Field, Mr. Chema said.
Mr. Bergsmark, who had previously recommended a site on the riverfront in East Toledo, backed away from that yesterday, instead saying he simply wanted a good location with cheap parking and easy access.
Mr. Finkbeiner has previously objected to Mr. Bergsmark’s East Toledo location because of the high cost of demolishing a power plant currently on the site. But he said another East Toledo spot, on the site of the Toledo Sports Arena, could work.
The closest thing to a disagreement came when Mr. Finkbeiner reiterated his support for repealing Section 79 of the city charter. That section requires voters to approve any city spending on a stadium.
“The city of Toledo’s hands should not be tied,” he said. He said that whether voters would get a say on a stadium project would depend on what Mr. Chema advised him.
If local leaders decide to spend millions on a stadium without asking voters, Mr. Finkbeiner said, “they can vote aye or nay the next time those political figures are up for election.”
Mr. Finkbeiner is in his second term as mayor, and cannot seek re-election.
But Ms. Isenberg said she definitely would give citizens the opportunity to approve or deny the project if new dollars have to be raised.
“The commissioners are very committed that if new public dollars are necessary, then we should ask the voters to participate,” she said.
In May, voters strongly rejected a temporary sales tax that would have raised money to build a stadium.
Ms. Isenberg said, however, that there were “mitigating factors” that led to the defeat.
She said local leaders hadn’t had enough time to put together a proper campaign in support of the issue. However, she added, “I’m not making excuses.”