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Published: Friday, 5/16/2003

IFG is ready, willing, able for Marina District

No way should the Marina District fail. The idea is too good, the location on the east bank of the Maumee River is too attractive and a leading developer for the new arena is too accomplished.

That said, it's going to take a lot of hard work, a lot more ingenuity and a whole lot of cold, hard cash for the Marina District to become a reality.

With Columbus developer Frank Kass apparently becoming less inclined to have exclusivity over the project, International Facilities Group (IFG) of Northbrook, Ill., appears ready, willing and able to move into a position of authority.

According to River East Economic Revitalization Corp. board of directors member Neil A. MacKinnon III, also of Nordmann Roofing Co. Inc., and a local spokesman for IFG, “We have been given the green light from the [city] powers-to-be to submit a proposal, and that's what we intend to do.”

After listening to MacKinnon for five minutes, I was ready to vote yes for the new taxes on cigarettes and alcohol that Lucas County voters will be asked for to finance up to 75 percent of the cost of construction for the $191 million project.

“I think if we could go back in time and show the community when they voted down the Mud Hens' levy the first time,” MacKinnon said, “and now you see what [Fifth Third Field] has done downtown for northwest Ohio, I think if the levy was back on the ballot today and people could see ahead of time what they were going to get, the outcome of the election would hopefully be different.”

The Marina District, which will include retail stores, hotels, offices, theaters and residences plus the showpiece - a $50 million arena - has the potential to revitalize downtown Toledo, MacKinnon said.

“We believe in the project, we believe in the region. Because of our history in doing these things around the country, we're excited about it,” MacKinnon said. “We've been trying to move into this market for a while. We can hit the ground running.”

IFG has developed and managed several major indoor facilities, such as the United Center in Chicago.

IFG has also developed and managed smaller indoor facilities such as the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., and Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., which are more in line with the 10,000-seat arena projected for the Marina District.

“It's been done before in smaller markets, in smaller cities than here. Toledo does not have a problem that IFG hasn't faced and hasn't been able to overcome,” MacKinnon said.

“There's great developers out there, but do those developers know the sports and entertainment world like we do, do they have the connections that we do?”

What about money? I asked MacKinnon if IFG was prepared to help finance the project, or would a lack of private funds or refusal to spend fell a potential deal? Kass has told The Blade that an arena must be publicly owned and financed.

MacKinnon's no-nonsense response was enlightening because it validated IFG as a frontrunner to develop the Marina District.

“IFG, under the right set of circumstances, wouldn't be against putting an equity investment into the project,” MacKinnon said.

“We're not deal-stealers and deal-breakers. We're deal-makers and deal-savers.”

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