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Published: Friday, 4/1/2005

City fathers must be careful dealing with team's plight

Let's hope that Toledo Storm majority owner Tim Gladieux gets what he wants - a new showcase arena for his ECHL franchise and plenty of club-seat revenue.

Let's also hope that city officials don't overreact to Gladieux's pressure tactics, panic at the threat of losing Toledo's minor league hockey team, and give in too easily to the Storm's demands at taxpayers' expense.

This isn't brain surgery, folks.

Gladieux, the Storm's majority owner since 1998, wants the city to make good on its promise to build a new arena.

Since Gladieux also owns the 58-year-old, wobbling-on-its-last-legs Sports Arena in East Toledo, he probably wouldn't mind the new arena being part of the proposed Marina District, as opposed to building a downtown arena.

If the new arena is built on the Sports Arena site, guess who makes a

handsome profit for selling the land?

It's a win-win situation for Gladieux.

Citing financial losses stemming from poor attendance totals, the Storm announced Wednesday that it had made a formal request to suspend operations for 2005-06, a request that the ECHL's board of governors will consider during an April 12 conference call.

There are two ways to save the Storm, Gladieux explained.

t● New ownership. Gladieux said team officials are holding discussions with potential investors.

t● Build a new arena that will allow the Storm to generate more revenue streams with "club seats and restaurants."

Don't underestimate the timing of Gladieux's announcement. What he did has as much to do with politics as it does business.

Entering an election year, Gladieux put the pressure squarely on Mayor Jack Ford, who is up for re-

election. The last thing Ford wants or needs is to have the Storm leave Toledo under his watch, given how the administration has included a new arena as an important part of the proposed Marina District.

Gladieux is playing hardball, but all's fair in sports and politics.

It's the oldest trick in the book. Rob from the poor, give to the rich.

Robin Hood, in reverse.

Gladieux is not unlike many team owners who play on the public's emotional heartstrings to secure tax dollars for sweetheart stadium and arena deals.

What Toledo and every other city facing the potential loss of a popular sports team must do is remove emotion from the equation and seriously evaluate the costs and revenues that teams bring to a city.

In his book Major League Losers: The Real Costs of Sports and Who's Paying For It, author Mark S. Rosentraub, dean of the college of urban affairs at Cleveland State University, wrote that some team owners overestimate the economic impact of their franchises by as much as tenfold in convincing local governments to have new stadiums and arenas built.

Rosentraub's central argument is 1) sports franchises are small businesses that don't deserve the "subsidies" they receive, and 2) it's not the job of taxpayers to build facilities for private business entities.

I'm glad Gladieux made this issue public. We need to know where our tax dollars are going in regards to a new arena.

But Gladieux needs to make a commitment, too.

If the city honors Gladieux's request and builds a new arena that will allow his franchise to become more profitable, it's only fair that Gladieux, whose Storm has played only so-so hockey the last two seasons, gets committed to getting something done on the ice.

A first-class arena deserves a first-class hockey team.



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