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Published: Sunday, 5/16/2004

Decision by Packo cinches arena site

Sometimes you just know a decision is going to have monumental consequences.

I felt that way in 2002 when Sandy Isenberg, then president of the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, announced her intention to "double-dip" if she won re-election.

I felt that way in 2003 when the Lucas County Democratic Party, then headed by Paula Ross, snubbed incumbent Harry Barlos and endorsed Pete Gerken for one of this year's commissioner races.

Within six months, Ms. Isenberg and Ms. Ross were ousted from their respective positions.

Conversely, sometimes you just know a decision is going to lead to great things.

I felt that way on May 4 when I read the owners of Tony Packo's Cafe plan to open a 150-seat restaurant across from Fifth Third Field before the start of the 2005 baseball season.

The Mud Hens and Tony Packo's. All we need now is for Jamie Farr to open a downtown bar ("Klinger's Kave"?). Then, we'd have the M*A*S*H trifecta.

More than the marketing possibilities of a M*A*S*H theme, though, is the shot in the arm this gives the -- cough, cough -- "entertainment district." Packo's could be the catalyst for a significant increase in foot traffic near our $39.2 million stadium, which was named the best in minor league baseball in 2002 by Newsweek magazine.

Now, more than any other time in Fifth Third Field's existence, we've got to put construction of an arena on the front burner.

I know one thing: Packo's commitment to downtown all but settles the debate over the arena's location. Or at least it should. (Nothing personal, East Siders.)

Now also would be the perfect time for Toledo Mayor Jack Ford and University of Toledo President Dan Johnson to announce some sort of "partnership" regarding a state-of-the-arena.

Yes, there would be initial resistance -- albeit strong resistance -- from UT alumni, but it makes too much sense not to forge an alliance. UT basketball games could become an "event" if they were played in a downtown arena. Restaurants and bars would be hopping, just like they are when the Mud Hens play at home. As it is, Savage Hall is relatively isolated from service-industry businesses.

Longtime reader Jeff took me to task last month for saying the sooner Toledo builds an arena, the sooner UT will be able to be a host school for an NCAA basketball regional. He did the same thing more than a year ago when I suggested the same thing as I am today: UT should play its basketball games at the new downtown arena.

"It wasn't a good idea when you first wrote it," he said, "it hasn't been a good idea in the interim, and today your contention is unattractive. An arena may be a good idea for greater Toledo, but not ever for [the] Rockets."

I beg to differ.

Actually, Jeff made my point when he said, "An arena may be a good idea for greater Toledo." There's no doubt in my mind that it is.

UT is a "city" school with an aging arena. Given the perpetual financial challenges it faces, forming an alliance with the city for a new arena would be a win-win for both parties. (Keep in mind, one of the nation's prominent "city" schools, the University of Louisville, plays its basketball games off-campus. There are plenty of other examples.)

With its commitment to open a downtown restaurant, Tony Packo's has, in effect, "validated" Fifth Third Field. The University of Toledo could do the same for the city's new arena.



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