Given the dismal state of Toledo's economy, any credible private investment in the city, from any source, should be welcomed. Nativist attacks on the proposed purchase of the city-owned Docks complex by Chinese investors, on the grounds that it represents a sellout of Toledoans' interests to foreign sources, are not helpful.
The best way Mayor Mike Bell can allay such suspicions is to be transparent in presenting the sale to City Council, which must approve the deal, and to city
taxpayers. On that score, the administration is falling short.
Administration officials refuse to name publicly the two investors — The Blade has identified one as Wu Kin Hung — who want to buy the array of riverfront restaurants and entertainment venues for $2.15 million. That amount would enable the city to pay off bond debt on the property, apply nearly $400,000 in revenue to the municipal budget, avoid granting costly tax incentives, and reduce its inappropriate role as landlord.
Mayor Bell met the investors during his visit to China last September to tout economic opportunities in the city — a trip that itself was initially shrouded in unnecessary, counterproductive secrecy. A local organizer of the trade mission defended the Docks investors' anonymity, telling The Blade: “In China, people like to keep their business quiet.”
But this is not China, where official secrecy is government policy. In this country and city, the sale of a public asset is public business. The identity of the buyers is a basic element of that business. The investors' preferences are not the only consideration.
Equally unpersuasive is the administration's suggestion that identifying the investors, who are pursuing their first U.S. venture, would subject them to competing sales pitches from other communities. If city officials are offering the investors a good deal, it should stand on its own merits, whatever anyone else may or may not do.
The notion that the Docks investors might also involve themselves in the city's moribund Marina District project is a further argument for, rather than against, disclosure. That proposed development is much larger and more expensive than the Docks, and should proceed with at least as much openness and candor.
The shutdowns this month of two restaurants and a banquet facility at the Docks make clear the need for fresh investment to keep the development going. The Bell administration needs to persuade Toledoans that the proposed sale is in the public interest.
Wrapping the deal in secrecy seems an odd way to build such confidence.