A lawyer who has fought city officials on projects ranging from the Jeep tax package to the demolition of the Welfare Building announced yesterday that he opposes the Marina District project because he said the city could pay millions in environmental cleanup costs at the East Toledo site.
Along with a handful of opponents, Terry Lodge stood in front of Toledo Edison's former Acme power plant to call on the city to pull Issue 1 from the ballot because of vague wording.
City voters tomorrow will decide Issue 1, which is essential to the prospects for the Marina District.
Proponents of the ballot measure - and the $175 million Marina District project it would aid - say the charges are unfounded.
“This is nothing more than a last-ditch effort to derail this project,” said city councilman Bob McCloskey, in whose district the project would be built. “We have been talking about this project for more than a year. Then, two days before the election, a couple of guys decide to go out and try to get on camera.
“Where have they been?”
Mr. Lodge, who lives in Spencer Township and is unable to vote on Issue 1, said yesterday he represents former city councilman Mike Ferner, who narrowly lost the mayor's race in 1993 to Carty Finkbeiner.
Mr. Lodge charged that the city could be responsible for millions of dollars in environmental cleanup costs at the Acme site. He said he may file a lawsuit to try to stop the city's involvement should the measure pass.
Issue 1 is a key element of the development proposal. It calls for the construction of a sports arena, shops, restaurants, housing, hotels, apartments, office buildings, and a marina on 125 acres on the banks of the Maumee River between Main Street and the site of the new I-280 bridge.
The city charter requires voter approval before the city can spend money on sports arenas, convention centers, or similar projects.
City officials and proponents of Issue 1 say the measure is properly worded, and that no city money would be used for environmental cleanup.
They said the city's contribution to the project, proposed by Continental Development Companies Inc., of Columbus, would be limited to such things as roads and water and sewer services, at a cost to the city of about $8 million.
They said the city would also build a parking structure at the site, but would pay for it using a common tax-increment financing process that does not require additional taxes. Parking fees would also pay for the structure.
Mr. Lodge helped Ralph Nader in litigation over city involvement in the construction of the DaimlerChrysler plant in North Toledo. A U.S. District Court judge upheld the city's tax abatement package in August and dismissed the Nader lawsuit. Mr. Lodge said yesterday he decided to speak out against the Marina District project because no one else was questioning it. “Regardless of the time element, this is a serious matter,” he said.
Mr. Ferner charged that the city is hiding the true amount of what taxpayers must contribute to the project. He said he believes the city may be stuck with “up to tens of millions of dollars” in environmental cleanup costs.
He complained that the city has not released results of an environmental cleanup study that includes cost estimates for scouring the development site. “We're talking about giving city council the opportunity to write as many blank checks for as large an amount as necessary,” Mr. Ferner said.
Not so, said city officials and proponents of the project. “The city is not a party to the environmental studies because we don't own the land,” said Deborah Younger, acting director of development for the city. “They are forgetting that this is a private development. All that we are being asked to do is what we would do to support any economic development. The private sector is undertaking this project.”
The city, she said, has seen the environmental report on the site, which estimates cleanup at the defunct electricity generation plant to range from $5 million to $20 million, depending “on what you place on the site and where you place it.”
Supporters of the project outnumbered opponents three-to-one at yesterday's press conference. Many help up pro-Issue 1 signs as Mr. Lodge and Mr. Ferner talked. Kathy Teigland, project coordinator for Friends of the Marina District, roundly criticized Mr. Lodge and Mr. Ferner for their stand. “The question is, what are these guys for? Clearly, they are not for brownfield cleanup. Clearly, they are not for keeping our kids here and our grandkids here. Clearly, they are not for economic development. Clearly, they are trying to keep Toledo as a drive-through community on the way to the Cleveland Flats or to Cincinnati.”
Mr. Ferner narrowly lost the 1993 race for mayor of Toledo, in part because of concerns among the city's business community that his philosophy of government would harm economic development. Business leaders contributed large amounts of money to Mr. Finkbeiner, who won the election and is now nearing the end of his second term in office.
Mr. Finkbeiner is a strong proponent of the passage of Issue 1.
A recent poll commissioned by The Blade showed widespread public support for the measure.
The same poll showed nearly 8 of 10 Toledoans believe the city is moving in the right direction.