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Published: Friday, 10/14/2005

Marina District - once more

TOLEDOANS can hardly be faulted for looking at the newest incarnation of the Marina District proposal and wondering to themselves, as baseball great Yogi Berra once mused, if this isn't "deja vu all over again."

Mayor Jack Ford, his own somewhat precarious re-election chances no doubt weighing on his mind, unveiled the other day what we will now officially christen "Version Three" of a grand plan that looked great on paper back in 2000, but today, on the ground, still looks like, well, bare ground.

Let's acknowledge that while former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner made a big splash with Version One five years ago, it fell to his successor, Mr. Ford, to undertake the laborious task of cleaning up the contaminated portion of the Marina District site along the east bank of the Maumee River.

But after five years, where's the life, the vitality, the construction crews?

It's impossible to look at Mayor Ford's announcement this week and not think "politics."

After all, more than three years after the 2000 unveiling by Mr. Finkbeiner and his developer of choice, Frank Kass, Mayor Ford announced that he had decided to give local developers Bruce Douglas and Larry Dillin the project. We'll call that one Version Two, though the name had morphed to something called the "Esplanade at River East."

That deal fell apart, however, and a year later, in December, 2004, the mayor introduced another Columbus-based developer, Pizzuti Cos. Pizzuti's plans were at the heart of this week's announcement.

And while there are some similarities to earlier proposals for the Marina District, there is one glaring difference. No longer is a new sports arena part of the deal. Instead an outdoor amphitheater would be built on the old Sports Arena site, and a new arena would presumably be sited across the river in the Warehouse District.

We still believe that such a plan would break a covenant with East Toledo to rebuild a new arena on or near the site of the old one. Toledoans on both sides of the river voted in 2001 to waive a city charter provision prohibiting city involvement in the development of a new arena in East Toledo.

At the same time, we're struck by the relative silence of the East Side leadership on that point; maybe they feel they are bowing to the inevitable.

There are elements of the new plan that appeal. A new ice skating rink would take some pressure off Tam O'Shanter and provide high school and other amateur hockey teams a place to practice and play. The cruise ship terminal would bring tourist dollars; the amphitheater could become the new home of the city's growing jazz festival.

But it's time to get past the talk. Most Toledoans recall the excitement they felt - we certainly do - when Mr. Kass first unveiled his plans five years ago for a valuable but run-down and unsightly stretch of riverfront real estate. However, even though the environmental cleanup is essentially complete, the site itself remains lifeless and colorless and still serves no useful purpose, public or private.

So we'll reserve our enthusiasm this time around for the day when this much discussed and long delayed project finally gives Toledoans something more than a large expanse of dirt.



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