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Published: Tuesday, 4/24/2001

The puck stops where?

Columbus-based developer Frank Kass and his associates livened up the dog days of summer in a big way last August when they delivered a bombshell of an announcement to Toledo. Mr. Kass said he and his real estate companies would develop the east bank of the Maumee River from Main Street all the way to I-280, salvaging a decrepit stretch of riverfront and giving it new life.

The reaction was immediate and favorable, from City Hall to average Toledoans thunderstruck that an outsider with an excellent track record, good financial connections, and deep pockets saw far more promise and opportunity along the river's edge than they had ever imagined.

A major component of the so-called Marina District - a proposed complex of retail businesses, office buildings, marina, restaurants, and movie theaters - is a new ice arena, planned on the site of the old Acme Power Plant, which FirstEnergy is willing to donate.

The arena is essential to the project because it gets present Toledo Sports Arena owner Tim Gladieux out from under a facility that should have been torn down or renovated years ago, and because the Acme site, which is probably not suitable for other uses, is available for the cost of cleanup.

Now, however, something called the Downtown Warehouse Arena Consortium wants to tinker. The group thinks the arena ought to be on the west side of the river, not the east. A month ago, it was pushing a site at Summit and St. Clair Streets, near Swan Creek. Now it advocates a site bounded by Huron and St. Clair Streets and Madison and Jefferson Avenues.

Let's not rock that boat, folks.

In the first place, parking revenue is essential to the success of an arena venture, and the consortium's site would have no contiguous parking, relying instead on privately owned lots and garages that would return nothing to the risk-takers who develop the arena.

If the Toledo Storm had a late-season hockey game, the Mud Hens an early-season baseball game, and the convention center a trade show, parking to accommodate all three would be scarce anyway.

Second, the old Sports Arena, bad as it is by today's standards, is East Toledo's. City Councilman Robert McCloskey, East Toledo's councilman, and Mayor Finkbeiner have been at each other's throat figuratively - and in one instance, literally - for a long time, but they are on the same page on Mr. Kass's arena: they want it on the East Side.

Third, Mr. Kass, convinced that the Marina District project is only whole with the arena as its centerpiece, has warned that the complex will shrink dramatically in size and viability if the hockey facility is pulled out, going from roughly 250 acres, bridge to bridge, to just 25 acres or so.

Fourth, Mr. Kass already has impressive backing for the Marina site: Nationwide Insurance's real estate arm, which has helped bankroll some of his other ventures.

As for this business about “downtown,” we have maintained for a long time that International Park, the Sports Arena, and the corner of Front and Main Streets are indeed part of downtown. In fact, the only place in this city where you'll find a Main Street is in East Toledo.

Mr. Kass' history of rescuing rundown areas and bringing them back to useful urban life is well established, including in Pittsburgh, where his project, The Waterfront, reclaimed the “wrong side” of the Monongahela River and made it a popular residential-retail complex. He delivers what he promises.

On that basis, he deserves the same opportunity in Toledo. This city will get just one chance - this one - to fix the east bank.



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