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Financier keeps confidence in amphitheater

Ralph Caponigro said he doesn't take on projects he doesn't think will be successful. But the man charged with arranging financing for Rossford's stalled amphitheater said yesterday that unexpected delays in the project's progress are a concern.

“There are an awful lot of issues that we have to address and get some answers to before we can go forward. It is taking longer than we had hoped, but we're still confident we can get the job done,” Mr. Caponigro said, adding. “It's no slam dunk, that's for sure.”

The Rossford Arena Amphitheater Authority had planned to have a management firm hired and financing lined up by year's end.

It even wrote a clause into the contract with Frasco & Caponigro, the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., firm hired to arrange both, that it would give them a $100,000 success fee when both goals were met.

John Caponigro, a lawyer who specializes in representing sports and entertainment clients, recommended in early December that the authority hire a Michigan management firm to run the amphitheater, but the authority balked at that recommendation after learning the firm believed that to be successful, the amphitheater would require about $2.7 million in design changes and most likely could not open until 2002.

Last week, the authority agreed to pursue a contract with the Chicago firm of V.S.O.P., which assured the board the facility could open in June. Representatives of both sides are still working out the details.

Keith Wilkowski, legal counsel for the Rossford group, said yesterday that the board should have a final contract in front of it when it meets at 5:15 p.m. tomorrow in Rossford city council chambers.

Ralph Caponigro, a retired corporate finance executive who works with his son, John, said he needs a signed contract in hand to take to banks before he can persuade them to finance the project.

V.S.O.P. already has promised to guarantee the authority income of $675,000 a year, but the contract also could contain other elements that would convince a financial institution the project is sound, Ralph Caponigro said.

Crossroads Presents, the Michigan firm recommended by John Caponigro, for example, had offered to supply a letter of credit that would assure a lender payment on the debt.

“There are a lot of issues we have to agree to,” Mr. Caponigro said. “I don't like to go to banks and tell them something I have to change later on.”

Mr. Caponigro said it is unfortunate the authority did not decide to hire the management firm his son recommended, but he understands concerns about spending more money than necessary and delaying the amphitheater opening.

“It disturbs us, but it's their decision to make and we knew that all along, and that's not going to deter us from putting the maximum effort into this,” he said.

Rossford Mayor Mark Zuchowski, who is chairman of the authority, said last week that as long as Frasco & Caponigro gets the job done, it will earn the $100,000 bonus it was promised in its contract.

The authority, which has no money of its own, solicited $25,000 from three of its many creditors to hire Frasco & Caponigro.

The creditors have been trying to work with the authority to get the amphitheater opened in the hope they will see some of the money owed them.

Work on the amphitheater and an abandoned plan for an ice hockey arena stopped in November, 1999, when the authority was unable to sell bonds to finance the $48 million project.

Mr. Caponigro said in an October interview that he was well aware of the project's troubled history and wouldn't have taken the job if he thought it was a losing proposition.

“In our mind, it's poor business to not end up on the winning side,” he said at the time. “We always look at a project in those terms. If we feel the odds are in our favor, we will take the job.”

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