Monday, May 21, 2018
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Marina District project a good thing for Toledo

By making it known he wants to build the Marina District project, Columbus developer Frank Kass has forced us to think big and project into the future.

It'll be revealing to see if we really are big thinkers and how far into the future we're willing to project.

How scary is that, Toledo?

The message has to be delivered quickly, so that Charter Section 79 can be waived by voters in a public vote in September before the city can move forward on the 125-acre project that Kass wants to build in East Toledo.

The project, valued at $175 million, includes shops, restaurants, apartments and - ahem - a sports arena.

The city would be responsible for providing streets, sewers, parking facilities and other assistance to the project.

Talk about a new arena is healthy. I've been concerned that there have been some who seem reluctant to discuss the feasibility of a new arena, like it's something we shouldn't be talking about. I don't feel that way.

Hopefully over the next two months there will be a coming together, so that by the time voters are presented with the opportunity to amend Charter Section 79 they will waive it as a show of approval for the sports arena project. Voters decided against waiving Chapter Section 79 in 1985, the last time it was on the ballot.

Sometimes in this community we have been afraid to talk about things publicly. We have missed opportunities as a result.

Well, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner went public Thursday. He said the Marina District project is the most important investment development project in Toledo in the last half-century.

But before there can be action, there has to be a desire for change. We have to want to build a new downtown we can be proud of.

What Kass and Finkbeiner have done is force Toledo to take a real hard look inward. It's another opportunity for this city to determine if it wants to rebuild its downtown and adjoining neighborhoods and join the 21st century.

The Mud Hens' new ballpark, scheduled to debut next spring, makes wonderful sense, especially if the Marina District project goes from vision to reality.

I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but we've seen it work first-hand. We saw a baseball stadium and basketball arena completely transform Cleveland's downtown image.

But without a serious commitment from business leaders and political leaders, building a new arena doesn't make sense. A new ballpark and arena won't solve Toledo's downtown image problems.

It would be a small part of the solution, a start.

The Marina District project would not be located next to the new downtown baseball stadium, but it would be self-sufficient, attracting visitors and local consumers with restaurants and stores right on the premises.

Most important, it would become a destination beyond whatever sporting event, concert or convention was taking place at the arena or ballpark. A reason for spending the day - or weekend - in downtown Toledo.

I think the idea of a new arena near downtown is exciting. Which is why I was disappointed to see that a city council member didn't know Friday's special session was for a Charter Section 79 vote, while another council member wasn't even aware of the meeting.

The only debate about a revitalized downtown should be whether the make-over is planned around the baseball stadium or the Marina District.

John Harris is The Blade's sports columnist. Contact him by e-mail at

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