Gladieux proposes downtown sports complex

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

Toledo Sports Arena owner Tim Gladieux, seeing competition headed for Rossford, has presented his expensive new dream for downtown.

It includes: a new Mud Hens baseball stadium on the East Toledo waterfront, a new hockey arena in the Warehouse District, an expansion of the SeaGate Centre, and closing a stretch of Monroe Street.

It does not, however, include a way to pay for it all. He estimates the final price tag to be between $70 million and $110 million.

Mr. Gladieux, who also owns the Toledo Storm hockey team, acknowledges that he wants local governments to pay the lion’s share of the cost of his dream, but he said his plan is the best way to get downtown Toledo humming again.

“We can really restore some life to downtown,” he said. “I want people to look at this plan and start thinking about it now.”

He said local officials aren’t moving qucikly enough to decide what new sports facilities the city needs, and he hopes his vision “can help to jump start things.”

In February, officials in suburban Rossford announced their plans to build a $48-million entertainment complex near the intersection of I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike. The complex would include an amphitheater and an ice arena.

The arena’s main tenant, they said, would be the top minor league affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, posing a competitive threat to Mr. Gladieux’s Storm and his 52-year-old Sports Arena, which long ago passed its prime.

Immediately, Mr. Gladieux pledged that, within 90 days, he would break ground on an arena of his own.

Yesterday, 88 days after his pledge, he acknowledged that the goal will go unmet.

But Mr. Gladieux is pushing ahead with a plan that would tie the future of his hockey team to the Toledo Mud Hens.

Mr. Gladieux proposes to tear down the antiquated Sports Arena and donate its East Toledo riverfront site to Lucas County. That land would provide the bulk of the space necessary for the county to build a new ballpark for the Mud Hens, the Triple-A baseball team that currently plays at Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee – itself an antiquated structure.

In order For the baseball stadium to be built, the county would need more than just the Sports Arena site. According to Mr. Gladieux’s plan, it would also need to purchase several small parcels belonging to other landowners, as well as take over the fly-ash ponds at the Toledo Edison Co.’s Acme plant.

That inactive plant has been offered to the city as a donation. The city has not yet determined whether or not to accept the gift because of the high cost of tearing it down.

Mr. Gladieux said he has talked to Edison officials and they have told him that they are willing to consider working with a baseball stadium project even if the city chooses not to accept the donation.

“I think they’d be willing to work with us,” he said.

The stadium would be surrounded by retail development and boat docks, in an attempt to tie summertime baseball to summertime boating and other water sports. The site would be adjacent to the downtown passenger hovercraft facility planned by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. That facility could bring thousands of non-Toledoans to the downtown area.

In exchange for his land donation – and perhaps other future considerations – Mr. Gladieux wants the county to build a hockey arena downtown, attached to the SeaGate Centre. Mr. Gladieux said he has reached an agreement with Ogden Entertainment, the nationally known arena management company that had previously been in talks to manage the proposed Rossford arena.

Mr. Gladieux’s company, V/Gladieux Enterprises, and Ogden jointly would manage the arena, to be built between Summit, Monroe, Superior, and Washington streets. The county owns land on that site.

The arena would seat 13,000 for concerts and 11,120 for hockey games.

Under Mr. Gladieux’s plan, the county would pick up the cost of an expansion of the SeaGate Centre, the downtown convention facility. The SeaGate board recently conducted a study that showed that the facility should be expanded, and the Gladieux plan includes that expansion.

The plan would cause Monroe between Summit and Superior to be closed, expanding the convention center’s space across Monroe and adding parking at ground level. The SeaGate expansion would connect to the arena.

The plans don’t include any details about how all these new facilities would be paid for. The price tags it proposes for each element are vague: $20 million to 40 million for the baseball stadium, $40 million to 50 million for the hockey arena, and $10 million to $20 million for the convention center expansion.

Mr. Gladieux emphasized that the entire plan is “up for discussion. Nothing is set in stone.” He said he released his plan to speed up a process he said has “frankly been too slow.”

In March, Lucas County officials hired Cleveland consultant Tom Chema to analyze the county’s sports facilities needs, in particular where to build and how to pay for a new Mud Hens stadium. He is charged with determining if a new downtown hockey arena makes economic sense.

Mr. Gladieux said that Mr. Chema’s analysis is moving too slowly. Mr. Chema has pledged to have a site and financing plan ready within 12 months of his hiring.

Mr. Gladieux said that Sandy Isenberg, president of the county commission, and Mr. Chema, will be receiveing copies of his plans today.

Last night, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said that he had not had a chance to examine the plans, but said he wants to find a way to keep an entertainment center downtown. In the past, he has expressed support for a dual-facility plan similar to Mr. Gladieux’s.

Ms. Isenberg was not available for comment.

Rossford Mayor Mark Zuchowski could not be reached for comment, but he has said that Mr. Gladieux’s plans would have no impact on the arena plans.

Mr. Gladieux said that he did not consider the proposed Rossford arena in making his plans known. But his announcement occurs at a time when Rossford’s plans are increasingly in doubt.

Rossford officials originally said they would be able to sell the $48 million in bonds needed to finance their complex by May 1. That day came and went, and officials said they were pushing back their deadline to May 20. That day passed too, and Rossford officials still have not gotten a bond rating for their proposed sale, much less found buyers for their bonds.

In February, when news of Rossford’s plans broke, Mr. Gladieux said that if he could break ground for an arena before Rossford, the suburb would cancel its plans because having two competing arenas four miles apart made little economic sense.