Monday, May 21, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

Moving the Marina District forward


Peter Ujvagi


HOPE springs eternal, at least in the hearts of East Toledoans and other area residents who have been waiting for years for the actual construction of the Marina District.

Originally, the project was seen as a historic and unique opportunity to redevelop nearly 120 acres of premier waterfront land into a truly regional residential, entertainment, and commercial development that would attract people from near and far and finally reverse the loss of residents and business from the heart of our city.

The district, along with The Docks development in International Park, renovation of the King Bridge, Starboard Side condominiums, and construction of the Veterans Glass City Skyway, would strengthen the idea that the river unites Toledoans instead of dividing us.

We could finally break down the perceived barrier between the residents of the East Side and the rest of Toledo. As a bonus, we would be able to take advantage of this exciting project to continue the revitalization of East Toledo neighborhoods and the Main Street neighborhood commercial district.

In some areas, impressive if not necessarily high profile, progress has been made. Taking advantage of two $3 million grants from the state of Ohio to remediate the environmental challenges of the marina and arena phases of the project, the city has systematically cleaned and prepared this major brown- field site.

After sometimes torturous and complicated negotiations, the City and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority finally secured the title to critical land in the heart of the development.

After at least two false starts, and tough negotiations by Mayor Jack Ford, a developer with the commitment, capabilities, and vision to make the marina project a success has been selected. They are now working diligently, with the involvement of the community, to develop and implement a plan that is supported by market realities.

The newly energized Lucas County Improvement Corp. has recently secured an option on the Sports Arena property, beginning the final steps to securing the last piece of land needed for the project.

Yet in some ways we are as far away from the start of the Marina project as ever.

From the beginning, along with residential development, two major anchors were considered essential to the success of the project on the river front: a regional commercial/entertainment anchor and a new arena.

In September, 2001, Toledoans cast their vote by a margin of nearly 68 percent to 32 percent to suspend the restrictions of Section 79 of the Toledo City Charter and enable the participation of the city in the construction of a new arena on the East Side.

However, over the last several years, a dedicated group of downtown investors, some elected officials and administrators, and others have advocated for the construction of the new arena on the other side of the river - near the existing convention center and Fifth Third Field. Except for the East Side advocates (and The Blade's editorial position), little effort was put into making the arena a reality in the Marina District.

Additionally, construction costs and sources of funding have been pointed out as reasons for reconsidering the arena location.

Further movement on the Marina District is stalled on the issue of the arena location. We are now awaiting a second study to determine which location would be "economically" most viable.

What is missing in this debate is the original commitment made to the voters of Toledo, where the arena would really best leverage additional economic opportunities, and consideration that perhaps the land on the east side of the river could be actually developed with higher and better uses.

Further exacerbating the situation is that no viable alternative proposals from the downtown advocates have been presented to replace the arena investment for the Marina District.

Our community seems at a stalemate. It is time to make some hard decisions - before increasing suburban developments make the Marina district uneconomical. It is time to decide if the arena will be built in the Marina District or relocated to the other side of the river.

The arena decision must not be allowed to threaten the entire project, it must be made quickly, and it must be made in a way that won't further divide the city and potentially make the development of an arena politically and financially unattainable.

In an effort to move the project along, involve community stakeholders, and promote reasonable dialogue, a community meeting was held June 25.

Additionally two meetings to discuss the latest arena study also took place. The result of those meetings made it clear that while some East Siders and others will accept no less than the construction of the arena in the Marina District, others believe just as passionately that there are higher, better, and more creative uses for the land.

There are other options besides the arena, including: additional residential development; expansion of the proposed ice house concept to year-round recreational opportunities; expansion of The Docks concept; other developments that do not need such expansive parking and which attract and keep people in the district longer and bring them there more often than the limited dates of arena events; connecting the Marina District with Main Street, and taking greater advantage of the riverfront to attract people and investments.

Political, downtown, and East Toledo community leadership must come together and agree on moving the Marina District project forward before it is too late.

Three commitments must be made and kept:

1. The location decision on the arena must be acknowledged for what it is: That the decision had already been made, and would now be changed to relocate the new arena - if for no other reason than out of respect for the voters who cast their ballots for Section 79, for the arena's historic East Toledo location and the perceived commitment made four years ago on the location of the new arena.

2. If the arena is moved, any alternative development must be significant, equal to the economic impact of the arena and without reducing the city's financial commitment to the project. A "Dairy Queen," as one administrator suggested East Toledo deserves, is not enough.

3. The Marina Development must reach out to the surrounding neighborhoods, including the Main Street neighborhood commercial district and the residential communities, in concrete and specific ways to strengthen the momentum for revitalization and redevelopment.

A reasonable, fair, and economically equitable decision will be supported by many of us on the East Side and throughout the city of Toledo.

Peter Ujvagi is a state legislator from House District 47 and an East Sider.

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