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Published: Sunday, 7/13/2003

A duty to invest wisely

Recent letters to the editor and Blade columns have referred to my supposed bias toward downtown interests versus the interest of East Toledo. As a Lucas County official for 25 years, I have taken an approach as to what is best for our county as a whole.

A clear example of my past support of East Toledo projects is evident. My office provided low-interest link deposit loans to help fund the development of the restaurants at “The Docks.”

I feel that the South end vs. West end, East Toledo vs. downtown, City of Toledo vs. the suburbs mentality has been detrimental to our entire area in achieving its economic potential. The Maumee River is perhaps our greatest asset and we should not let it divide our city into competing segments.

I have made statements to the effect that my office would probably not invest in an arena built in the Marina District. The reason for this stand is very clear - per the Chema report, Gladieux would receive $5 million, not pay any demolition costs of the Sports Arena, be guaranteed the concessions, and would be allowed to purchase an owner's interest in the new arena. My proposed financing calls for the public, through Lucas County, to own and operate the arena as a nonprofit, similar to the Mud Hens ballpark and SeaGate Centre. Therefore, no private interest is enriched by this project.

I have been portrayed as not supporting the Marina project. The fact is that I was one of its earliest supporters and had numerous meetings with Frank Kass and his associates exploring ways in which the county might be of assistance. I continue to support the Marina District concept but like many, have become frustrated with its lack of progress and broken promises.

In researching arenas around the country and in examining the “best use” of the Marina District's land, I became convinced that an arena attached to SeaGate Centre would give our entire region the greatest economic impact for the following reasons:

1) SeaGate Centre, which needs additional space, could utilize the arena floor and concourse for exhibitions, etc., thereby increasing the number of paid “event days.”

2) Economic impact studies have shown that an arena or stadium by itself yields little economic value to an area. Usually the people park beside the venue, they go directly to the event, and afterwards drive directly home, thereby only spending money at the event itself. One has only to examine the Palace and Silverdome (just north of us) and our own Sports Arena to confirm this conclusion.

In the case of Fifth Third Field, some economic impact has occurred because the parking is dispersed throughout the downtown; thereby, many of our downtown establishments have benefited from Mud Hens game dates. Obviously, the same would occur with a downtown arena in the same area.

3) While The Blade's sports columnist commented that one of the flaws in my plan was that it did not generate parking revenues (actually a part of my report does address it as a potential revenue source), he did not take into account the cost of building, maintaining, and operating parking facilities that are not needed in the site I identified.

4) Land acquisition costs on the site I identified could be much less expensive. The Mud Hen right field site land and building (per the county auditor) values total $1.2 million (excluding property owned by Lucas County and the city of Toledo).

As Lucas County treasurer, I have a fiduciary duty to invest wisely on behalf of the citizens of Lucas County. My analysis clearly shows that more event days and therefore more revenue could be generated per my proposal as opposed to that which has been proposed for the Marina District. Based on an 8,500-seat arena that was proposed by Tom Chema and based on the 125 dates that the current Sports Arena is generating, I do not feel that it would be a good investment for Lucas County residents. I would note, however, that this is not only my decision, but also that of the county commissioners.

It should also be noted that in my early discussions with Frank Kass, it was initially stated that an arena was not necessary for the Marina District to be successful. Riverfront property has tremendous development potential with or without an arena. Actually, an upscale condo development would be more attractive without an arena. Who wants to live next to a parking lot attached to an arena? Is surface parking on the Maumee River its “best use”?

The last criticism that I would like to address is “what about the Section 79 vote?”

The public was only given one choice - the Marina District or nothing. Statements were made that ground could be broken in a few months after the vote if the results were positive. Well, a few months are now a few years. Both SeaGate Centre and Fifth Third Field did not need a Section 79 vote because they were Lucas County projects. Likewise, Section 79 would not be an issue in a county-initiated arena project.

RAY T. KEST

Lucas County Treasurer



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