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Published: 9/3/2012

Developer pitched to Rossford

Wood County city cautious about sports-complex plan

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Native Toledoan Cliff Gaston, who led the Southwyck group, was found to have legal and financial problems. Native Toledoan Cliff Gaston, who led the Southwyck group, was found to have legal and financial problems.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The small northern Wood County city of Rossford dodged the problem that Toledo encountered when the Bell administration endorsed a plan last month to redevelop the blighted Southwyck property.

Two months before Mayor Mike Bell and then-Deputy Mayor Tom Crothers stood before news cameras and alongside a group of developers, Rossford officials saw the same pitch, but they considered the proposal cautiously.

MJW Development Group asked each city for $50,000 for a market study. In Toledo, the developers, led by native Toledoan Cliff Gaston, said they wanted to build a soccer field, a baseball diamond, an indoor ice rink, volleyball courts, a water park, retail space, and a hotel where Southwyck Shopping Center once stood. Within hours, The Blade revealed Mr. Gaston's long list of legal and financial troubles.

Mayor Bell quickly scuttled the deal to lend the firm $50,000, and days later he demoted Mr. Crothers to the city's water department.

What Toledo officials didn't know was that Rossford had been asked to help develop the same idea on land near the intersection of the Ohio Turnpike and I-75 -- property known as the Crossroads of America.

Rossford Administrator Ed Ciecka told The Blade that Brad Peebles -- a former Bell administration official who first brought the recreation development idea before Mr. Bell in 2011 -- pitched the idea in Rossford.

"When I saw it on TV, the plans for Southwyck, it was the same plan they had presented to us," Mr. Ciecka said. "With the same approach -- they were asking for the same $50,000."

He said he thought it was an interesting proposal, but he wanted more information.

"We asked where they had done this before, they never responded back," Mr. Ciecka said. "I assumed that it originated in Toledo all along and it was the same proposal."

Rossford has about 600 undeveloped acres where the project could have been built.

Mr. Peebles, who left Toledo in March, confirmed presenting the idea to Mr. Ciecka on June 12.

"At the time, the issue was no one at the city was responding to the potential development, and they contacted me," he said.

Mr. Peebles said the developers never intended to pursue two sites at the same time, and he disagreed with Mr. Bell's decision to scrap the idea so quickly. "The players I have been involved with have had a credible reputation," Mr. Peebles said. "One individual may have had some financial issues, and in today's economy, I don't think that is uncommon, but to say one individual is cause for a development not going forward is not appropriate."

Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, whose district includes the Southwyck property in South Toledo, said he is disheartened that nothing is happening at the site.

"I'm not surprised they have shopped it to Rossford," Mr. Collins said. "It became very clear to me it was a scam. … Things like this compromise the ability of the owners to really move the property."

Mr. Gaston, who did not return calls seeking comment, has been named as a defendant 36 times in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Some cases involve real estate, such as foreclosures; others deal with unpaid taxes.

But one in 1999 was a criminal charge with two counts of nonsupport of dependents.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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