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More time sought to attract first-rate acts to Rossford site

The opening of Rossford's half-built amphitheater could be delayed another year if its owners hope to attract top-notch entertainers, a consultant told the Rossford Arena Amphitheater Authority yesterday.

While the authority was having a special meeting in hopes of hiring a management firm to run the facility, John Caponigro, a consultant on the project, told the board that parking, restrooms, and concessions laid out on the architect's plans are only sufficient for 12,000 people. The facility would need to be able to accommodate at least 17,500 people to attract top acts, he said.

``The bottom line is we may end up not having a commencement date until 2002 because of what has to happen,'' Mr. Caponigro said.

He said the management firm he is recommending - a joint venture between two Michigan concert promoters that is calling itself Crossroads Presents - only saw the architectural drawings for the venue two days ago and immediately identified a number of problems. Its revenue projections were based on booking acts for a facility that could accommodate at least 17,500 people.

Although the amphitheater authority board delayed making any kind of decision, its legal counsel, Keith Wilkowski, reminded members that things have changed since the amphitheater plans were first made. Rossford officials decided last month to abandon its plans to build an ice hockey arena adjacent to the amphitheater, and some facilities for the amphitheater, such as food service, were to have been located at the arena, he said.

“[Crossroads Presents] is very adamant about making the right, good impression on people the first time out and not using porta-potties,” Mr. Wilkowski said. “... There is a certain comfort level in knowing you're doing things right instead of doing things fast.”

Rossford Councilman Chuck Duricek expressed concern that the project's many creditors would not be amenable to waiting another year for any revenue to begin coming in so they could begin to be repaid.

“I don't know if the creditors are going to stand another year,” he said. “I don't know if we have the time to wait another year.”

Nathan Hagemeister, a trustee in Perrysburg Township which is among the creditors, was mostly silent during the lengthy meeting, but questioned whether design changes and construction work would necessitate a year's delay. He suggested the managers book performers beginning July 15.

“Why should they have to wait a whole year if the thing is going to be finished and sitting there?” he asked.

Mr. Caponigro said he had not discussed that possibility with Crossroads Presents principals but will do so. He agreed to have Robert Fox - one of the principals - address Rossford city council at its meeting Monday night. The RAAA then scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Tuesday, possibly to act on the proposal from Crossroads Presents.

Rossford Mayor Mark Zuchowski, who is chairman of the RAAA, said he has concerns about making the facility bigger and spending more money but said he doesn't want to “slow down the process.”

The authority is relying on Mr. Caponigro's firm, Frasco & Caponigro of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., to line up financing to get the amphitheater completed. Officials estimate it will take at least $6 million and 18 weeks to finish the facility and site work and $300,000 to furnish and equip it.

Mr. Caponigro said a key part of the proposed contract with Crossroads Presents is the firm's agreement to post a letter of credit guaranteeing the authority $625,000 a year in rent - something officials hope will make bankers more receptive to financing the troubled project.

Ralph Caponigro was originally working with a Chicago bank on a proposed $17 million financing package that would have been used to finish the amphitheater and begin repaying the authority's long list of creditors.

John Caponigro confirmed that the Chicago bank declined to finance the project and said his father is now working with local banks to put together a new, scaled-back financial package. He said the contract with Crossroads Presents should boost those efforts considerably.

“It was very important that we locked up this guarantee,” Mr. Caponigro said.

Work on the amphitheater and the now-shelved hockey arena just off Lime City Road stopped in November, 1999, after the authority was unable to sell bonds to finance the ambitious $48 million complex.

Just how and when creditors will be repaid remains to be seen. Robert Maxwell, president of Lathrop Co., the project's general contractor and largest creditor, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Lathrop and its subcontractors are owed more than $7 million.

Perrysburg Township, which gave the authority an unsecured $5 million loan to get the project started, has yet to be repaid. Mr. Hagemeister, who is a nonvoting member of the authority,, said after the meeting that residents who have been vocal in their opposition to the township's involvement with the project would be unhappy if the amphitheater opens later than expected, ``but they're not going to be happy with anything.''

“We're just still sitting here,'' he said. “We're still accruing interest we're not getting.''

Mr. Caponigro described the principals - Robert Fox and Joseph Z. Nederlander - as ``real players in this game.'' Mr. Nederlander of Birmingham, Mich., has been in the entertainment industry for more than 50 years and helped found the Nederlander Organization, which owns and/or operates more than 35 theaters in the United States, Canada, and England.

Mr. Fox of Livonia, Mich., is the founder and sole shareholder of Brass Ring Productions, an independent concert promoter since 1974. His firm's list of events ranges from A Chorus Line to ZZ Top.

Under their proposal, the authority stands to earn:

  • $1 per paid admission, with a minimum guarantee of $625,000 a year in “rent” from Crossroads Presents.

  • $2 per automobile, up to a maximum of $300,000 a year, for parking.

  • An estimated $150,000 a year from a yet-to-be-solicited corporate facility sponsor, which would buy the right to name the amphitheater.

  • Ten per cent of net revenue generated by Crossroads Presents on merchandise and concession sales.

    Crossroads Presents expects to present 25 to 35 major concerts a season that would attract 10,000 to 20,000 people, and 10 to 15 smaller events that would be likely to draw fewer than 5,000 people.

    The firm said it will bring a wide spectrum of entertainers to the amphitheater and make it available for nonprofit and community service uses, such as high school and college commencement ceremonies, Sunday morning sunrise services, “Symphony Under the Stars” discount concerts, special holiday events, and community and youth theater special events.

    The amphitheater is in the Crossroads of America, a site thought ideal for development because of its proximity to the Ohio Turnpike and I-75.

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