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Published: Saturday, 4/16/2011

Due diligence

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell suggested Friday that a new proposal to develop the long-delayed Marina District is in trouble because of objections City Council members have raised to the deal. But if the agreement is as good as the mayor claims, it should be able to stand up to scrutiny, from council or anyone else.

Two Chinese investors last week offered to buy most of the 125-acre Marina site for $3.8 million, and to build a $200 million residential and commercial development on the property. Mr. Bell says they now are “reassessing” their interest in the project in light of council members’ subsequent comments.

Some members want to mandate union labor on the project. Others want to shorten from five years to two years a deadline for allowing the city to buy back the Marina land if development is not mostly complete by then.

The mayor is correct that a “project labor agreement” should not encumber the deed for the Marina property. The quality of work done by unions affiliated with the Northwestern Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council is so high that the project’s developers would be unwise not to use them voluntarily.

More troublesome, though, is Mr. Bell’s suggestion that the investors must have “total support” if they are to proceed. Council members have not only the right but the responsibility to raise pertinent questions about the proposed sale. That isn’t mere obstructionism.

These questions include whether the city is getting enough money for a valuable public asset that represents the city’s best opportunity for high-quality, comprehensive economic development. City officials — and their taxpaying constituents — deserve more information about the investors, their track record as developers, and the sources of their funding, even if the investors are uncomfortable with such inquiries.

Secrecy will not create public confidence in this deal; to the contrary, it will raise even more skepticism. If a proposal so important to the city’s future cannot endure such exposure, that suggests the city can and should do better.



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