Latest Marina District plan unveiled for Toledo

10/12/2005
BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Exactly four weeks before voters decide his political fate, Mayor Jack Ford rolled out what he said is the real plan for development of the Marina District.

As before, colorful designs were placed upon easels. This time the plans excluded an arena, an East Toledo landmark for more than half a century.

This is a grand plan but also a plan that will work, Mr. Ford said yesterday. He predicted the completed retail and entertainment complex will draw visitors and shoppers from all over the Midwest and from Canada.

Mr. Ford said Bill Carroll, director of economic and community development, is chairing a team looking at new sites for an arena.

Our studies have clearly concluded that corporate and business support is much stronger on the west side of the river. The arena development must be driven by market forces, Mr. Ford said.

The plan unveiled yesterday includes an ice rink and an outdoor amphitheater proof of his commitment to replacing the aging arena with equally desirable attractions, the mayor said.

Mr. Ford combined several announcements, including the city s planned purchase of the Toledo Sports Arena for $5 million, the siting of the 5,000-seat amphitheater in its place, completion of the $19 million environmental cleanup, and completion of conceptual drawings from developer Pizzuti Cos. of Columbus.

Carty Finkbeiner said he hopes he can interest Frank
Kass of Columbus, the original developer, to return to the project.
Carty Finkbeiner said he hopes he can interest Frank Kass of Columbus, the original developer, to return to the project.

Mr. Ford s political rival, former mayor Carty Finkbeiner, was critical of the announcement.

He s had press conference after press conference after press conference, developer after developer after developer, Mr. Finkbeiner said yesterday. In none of these cases has a single solitary brick been laid.

If left to the Ford Administration, will the Marina District ever happen, or will it stagnate like the Southwyck mall? When I m elected mayor, I will move forward with dispatch to build the Marina District, Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Much of the $163 million design laid out yesterday by Mayor Ford still depends on finding developers to finance the work.

But officials said the financing is in place, or almost in place, for some of the development, including the marina and passenger terminal with cruise ship docks, and construction of Marina Drive and a riverwalk. Plans for financing the amphitheater and an ice rink for recreation and professional hockey practice are also close to completion, they said.


Still to be recruited are developers for 216 residential units, a destination retail outlet, a hotel, 45 stores and restaurants, a movie theater, and a lodge.

Mr. Ford was joined by Ron Pizzuti, chairman of Pizzuti Cos. of Columbus, the Marina District s lead developer, and other officials.

Mr. Ford and Mr. Pizzuti said the significance of yesterday s event is that Pizzuti now has a finished plan and a cleaned site entirely under city control to market to developers and retailers.

Mr. Pizzuti was enthusiastic about the condition of the site.

This is an exciting time for us. When I pulled in this morning, I was flabbergasted at the progress that s been made, Mr. Pizzuti said.

Mr. Pizzuti also said that the project would generate 1,800 jobs and an annual payroll of $42.4 million.

The plan calls for several anchors, beginning at the south near Main Street, with an amphitheater with a covered stage similar to the Scene Pavilion in Cleveland managed by House of Blues. Mr. Carroll said such an amphitheater would cost about $7 million and would have professional management. Mr. Ford predicted the annual jazz festival would move to the amphitheater from International Park.

Moving north, a second anchor would be the cluster of condominiums, townhouses, and apartments, including an eight-story tower.

Next along the riverfront would be the retail town center, which one official said would use Columbus Easton Town Center as its model. It would have 35 shops, 10 restaurants, a theater, and a destination retailer.

A public marina and the passenger terminal would be next, using an existing inlet that the city has already begun dredging and widening for use as a marina. Pizzuti officials said the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority has money ready to begin construction.

Pizzuti
Pizzuti

Jim Miller, Pizzuti executive vice president, said Great Lakes cruise lines is eager to have a terminal in Toledo.

We ll market the terminal to them and draw people into our exciting retail area, Mr. Miller said.

Plans for the former Acme power plant and a lodge next to the I-280 bridge remained sketchy. Projects that would start in early or mid-2006 include the marine passenger terminal and marina and construction of Marina Drive.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he hopes he can interest Frank Kass of Columbus, the original Marina District developer, in returning to the project. Mr. Kass dropped out early in Mr. Ford s term. He said Mr. Kass had financial backing from Nationwide Insurance Co. and a track record through his Waterfront development in Pittsburgh.

But he also said that, if elected, he would meet with the Pizzuti team to determine whether he felt they had the ability to bring financing to the project and to examine their track record.

Mr. Finkbeiner didn t take a position on where the arena should be.

Mayor Ford was joined by two members of council, Frank Szollosi and Karyn McConnell Hancock; two of the three county commissioners, Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Pete Gerken, and state Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo). All are allies of Mr. Ford in his re-election bid, and all pledged to support the project.

Ms. Wozniak said Mr. Ford had been saddled with the unglamorous task of getting the site cleaned up and ready for development.

You have [borne] the brunt of this cleanup project. You ve dug in.

You ve made sure we have clean waterfront property for us to have this amazing opportunity for growth, Ms. Wozniak said.

Mr. Szollosi later said yesterday s announcement was the culmination of several years of property acquisition, environmental cleanup, and market studies. There is considerably more substance to this press conference than there was five years ago when then-Mayor Finkbeiner had his press conference, Mr. Szollosi said.

Uninvited City Councilman Bob McCloskey arrived as the event was ending and was critical of the timing.

It s 30 days before the election. This is the third time drawings are done. I haven t seen any funding sources. I want to make sure this time it s for real, Mr. McCloskey said.

Flashy announcements of Marina District plans have happened before:

• On Aug. 7, 2000, Mr. Finkbeiner announced a $175 million development with Mr. Kass. That plan envisioned expanding, rather than replacing, the existing Toledo Sports Arena.

• Mr. Ford, on Nov. 24, 2003, announced that he had decided to award the project to local developers Bruce Douglas and Larry Dillin. The project was to be called Esplanade at River East. That deal fell apart in negotiations, and the Marina District was sent out again for proposals.

• On Dec. 21, 2004, Mr. Ford introduced Mr. Pizzuti to the public. Mr. Pizzuti avoided putting a dollar figure on the project and made it clear that the designs would come only after a market study and citizen input. But the announcement projected release of conceptual drawings around mid March.

Mr. Ford accused Mr. Finkbeiner of contributing to the delays by prematurely announcing his own plans for the Marina District five years ago.

Mr. Ford announced his intention to have the city purchase the Toledo Sports Arena and Brenner Marine property. The Lucas County Improvement Corp. has an option to buy the 25-acre site for $5 million.

He said the bonds to purchase the site would be paid off with revenue from the city s parking garages, which is now being used to pay off downtown garage construction debt.

Contact Tom Troy at:tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.