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Published: Thursday, 5/2/2002

Gateway to Marina District

Three years ago we made a strong case for the hiring of Cleveland consultant Thomas Chema to coordinate the construction of Toledo's new downtown ballpark. “Just give him the ball,” the headline said on a March, 1999 editorial. Fortunately, the Lucas County Board of Commissioners agreed that Mr. Chema's hiring would be a good idea.

The result: a project that had been as good as dead after the defeat of Issue 9 roared back to life. Mr. Chema had been there and done that and knew how to find a funding plan more acceptable to the public than a temporary sales tax.

Today the Toledo Mud Hens have their new home - in large part because Mr. Chema and his Gateway Consultants Group, Inc., brought their expertise and experience to bear on an immensely complicated project.

Now let's fast-forward from Fifth Third Field, a $39 million ballpark that has already jump-started new life into a part of downtown that sorely needed it, to the Marina District, a proposed $191 million complex of retail, commercial, and residential development on the east bank of the Maumee River that could do similarly great things for the city of Toledo.

The city, the county commissioners, and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority are mulling over the prospect of hiring Mr. Chema and his firm to assist in the planning of the Marina District. Given the man's track record, we say, “what's to mull?”

Columbus-based developer Frank Kass' ambitious plans for the riverbank between the King Bridge and the I-280 bridge represent the best chance the community is likely to get to reclaim this stretch of unattractive, desolate land and put it to productive public use.

But it's no secret that not much has been heard of the Marina District in the many months since Mr. Kass' early announcements. It's important that momentum be re-established and a reasonable timetable put in place to keep the Marina District a municipal priority.

As we have noted before, Mr. Kass' plans call for a project that will be largely privately financed. The quality of his work elsewhere is a matter of public record and knowledge. But as with most projects of this magnitude, there will be some public funding through the city, the county, and the port authority.

That requires caution but should not generate alarm. The public-private partnership that built Fifth Third Field happened in significant measure because Mr. Chema and Gateway crafted a plan that made the ballpark not only affordable but likely to come in on budget. It was, and it did.

That's why Mr. Chema's help should be so important on the Marina District. Many questions remain to be answered. Hopefully there will be no problems, only solutions.

Tom Chema has the wherewithal to find them. Just give him the ball.



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