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Published: Sunday, 7/6/2003

Establishment wants to ignore East Toledo

Now we know.

People who live on the east side of Toledo don't count. The promise of a Marina District and increased business and employment opportunities for the part of the city that I consider Downtown East - ignored.

According to Lucas County treasurer Ray Kest, the proposal for a downtown arena should move forward because of the Marina District's distance from the convention center.

Good-bye, Marina District. Good-bye, Section 79.

Kest offered his arena plan last week - in direct opposition to the concept of a Marina District first proposed by former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who quickly threw his support behind Kest's idea.

Kest repeated the mantra of Toledo's status-quo “visionaries” of the downtown vs. east side debate, warming over the same tired argument that the east side isn't part of downtown because, well, it's across the Maumee.

Bottom-line message:

Let's don't waste time trying to accomplish something spectacular like the Marina District (consisting of retail stores, restaurants, apartments, movie theaters, marina and showpiece arena). Let's keep Toledo's money “downtown” with our established business leaders.

Let's keep doing just enough.

We can't be afraid to think big just because certain business interests don't believe the Marina District is feasible.

For instance, you can take part of Kest's financial package (paying for a 14,000-seat arena in the Warehouse District with a per-ticket surcharge, a la Fifth Third Field), combine it with a nationally known developer such as International Facilities Group of Northbrook, Ill. - which has a track record of landing major entertainment acts - and produce a state-of-the-art arena with the potential to pay for itself.

A big reason why Kest is pushing the idea of a downtown arena is because of the perception that city officials, who are completing a request for proposals from developers, aren't moving forward with the Marina District.

Give Kest credit. He's thinking out of the box. Part of his plan has validity.

Still, it's difficult to imagine building a 14,000-seat arena for $51 million (including land acquisition, relocation and demolition costs) when a 10,000-seat arena at the Marina District was projected at around the same price.

And Kest's plan doesn't address parking revenue, which would help finance the Marina District but wouldn't be a part of a downtown arena.

Kest said he probably would not participate in financing the Marina District for the reasons already mentioned.

That's too bad. Like it or not, the east side remains an important slice of Toledo. The Marina District is within walking distance of downtown.

Four hours to the west, Chicago, which has a much larger downtown than Toledo's, features a bridge that runs through sections of that city. Yet each of those sections is still considered downtown Chicago - bridge and all.

We shouldn't even be debating about location. The next step should be everyone working together - yes, everyone - and putting Toledo first for a change.



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