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The secret deal that wasn’t

Remember the secret deal struck between the city of Toledo and the unknown buyer of the former Southwyck Shopping Center?

It was so secret that we could not be told what the specific terms were — only the ballpark purchase price of $2.8 million.

And, of course, we could not be told who the buyer was.

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The former Southwyck property in South Toledo.

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Now the deal is off — dead prior to arrival. And we still don’t know any of the terms, or why the deal failed.

In fact, it’s not clear the city knows why the deal failed.

And the really bad news is that the future of the 58.5-acre site in South Toledo off Reynolds Road remains in the hands of city officials — folks who look more and more like the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.

Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson should never have agreed to keep secret the identity of the buyer, and City Council should not have agreed to go along with maintaining the secret, not without something — something specific and special — on the table.

The purchase agreement expired in October, but the buyer was granted additional time. Then, on Dec. 20, the city rejected a request to extend the “period of due diligence” through Jan. 31. Subsequently, the purchaser ended the agreement.

Another detail that reflects poorly on the Hicks-Hudson administration is that, through the Louisville Title Agency which represented the buyer, the city said it did not receive two letters of intent sent by the agency.

How on earth could the city not receive such important correspondence? The sender claims it was sent twice. And one has to ask: If the title agency sent mail twice to the city, did it occur to it that it should have sent mail that requires a signature from the recipient? Ordinary citizens do that for far less important matters. If someone had been required to sign, at least there would be some accountability. The whole affair reeks of slovenliness and amateurism.

Southwyck was once the home of a thriving shopping center, which closed more than eight years ago. The buildings were razed seven years ago. Since then, among the more than 60,000 motorists who drive past that site are visitors to Toledo via the Ohio Turnpike. After getting off Exit 59, these visitors see a miserable eyesore where grass and weeds grow through the cracks of vast patches of concrete. It is a vitally important piece of land that has been squandered.

The secret deal, or ordeal, that got underway last summer proves, once again, that something is seriously broken at City Hall.

When land is publicly owned, public officials should tell the public what’s happening with its land.

Only extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary results can justify secret deals.

So, Flat Rock is getting a $700 million investment by Ford, and Toledo is getting more weeds.

The grand, secret Southwyck deal yielded zip, nada, not even a handshake and a salute.

One effort after another has been presented for Southwyck, and the city has been unable to make anything happen. The city should get out of the real-estate business and outsource its economic development. No one in city government knows how to do it.

And the city of Toledo should learn a basic lesson: Be open and transparent about what it is doing with public land and monies.

Secret deals seldom pan out — it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid them in open societies. A kind of democratic karma exerts itself: By corrupting the process, we inevitably corrupt the result.

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