THE man whose expertise helped create Fifth Third Field and rejuvenated the Warehouse District now says that the best way to build a new sports arena is with a county tax on alcohol and tobacco. It might be a tough sell, but he's right.
Thomas Chema and his Gateway Consulting firm of Cleveland believe that such taxes may be the best option for a new arena in East Toledo, principally because neither local government nor private interests have the resources to get it done.
Some in the community may say, “So what? Don't build it then.”
But a new sports and concert arena is a key component of the effort to revitalize the east bank of the Maumee River. If there is one thing upon which even the project's detractors can agree, it is that the 52-year-old Sports Arena on Main Street is a relic of another era.
We continue to have faith in Mr. Chema's expertise. His advice and counsel was invaluable as Toledo and Lucas County sought ways to salvage a new downtown ballpark following the defeat of Issue 9, a 1998 sales tax increase that would have financed the stadium. Fifth Third Field ultimately became a nationally known success story.
And it was Mr. Chema who pointed the way in Cleveland when the Gateway project needed guidance to get off the ground, and there is no questioning the impact those facilities have had in revitalizing that city.
State law was amended in 1986 to allow counties to add modest amounts to the cost of alcohol and tobacco products for the specific purpose of financing a stadium or an arena. It was just such a tax that Cleveland officials used to help build Jacobs Field and Gund Arena.
It's worth noting that when a proposal to tax alcohol and tobacco products was first approved in Cleveland in 1990, it narrowly carried; yet when Clevelanders saw what it accomplished, they voted overwhelmingly for its renewal five years later.
Locally, Lucas County citizens could expect to pay up to a dime more for a six-pack of beer, 3.5 cents for a mixed drink, and up to 4.5 cents more for a pack of cigarettes. Voters would have to approve before those increases could take effect.
Predictably, some folks - especially smokers - are unhappy with the Chema plan, which he outlined in a study commissioned by Lucas County commissioners. The state, after all, last year added 31 cents per pack to Ohio's cigarette tax. Doubters need to keep a bigger picture in mind - think Fifth Third Field - as evidence of what a city can do when it summons the will.
Ever since the community of Rossford announced its plans - since abandoned - to build a new arena and entertainment venue in the Golden Triangle area of northern Wood County, we have argued that such a facility belonged in Toledo. We remain convinced of that and believe that an arena in East Toledo is still the way to go.
If the Chema plan offers the best chance of success, it deserves the city's and the county's full consideration.