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Published: Monday, 2/2/2004

County mulls Rec Center's fate

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Skeldon Field at the Lucas County Recreation Center was home to the Mud Hens till they moved downtown. Skeldon Field at the Lucas County Recreation Center was home to the Mud Hens till they moved downtown.
BP CHRIS WALKER Enlarge

What began as a quest to build an ice rink has led to talks about the possibility of selling the Lucas County Recreation Center to Maumee.

Tom Schreiber, a Whitehouse-area man, has been talking to the Lucas County commissioners, Maumee officials, and anyone else who will listen about building another rink to meet a demand that's so heavy that hockey players have to practice before the sun rises and late into the night.

The site he has been looking at is the Rec Center, where the Toledo Mud Hens played for decades. It's also the home of the county fair, Children's Wonderland, Quarter Midget racers, and myriad softball teams over the years.

“I think there's a need for another ice rink in this town because of my experiences with my own kids. I'm convinced a project could be successful in this town,” said Mr. Schreiber, who is a partner in an ice rink in Michigan between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Although the three commissioners and some Maumee officials say they recognize a demand for ice time, building a rink has been a piece in the larger puzzle of what to do with the Rec Center.

Without much area available for new housing, Maumee officials are considering the 130-acre site on Key Street for the types of homes that appeal to people who aren't interested in having big yards or spending a lot of time maintaining their property - in short, the type of housing available around Monclova Township, Sylvania Township, and Perrysburg Township.

Tom Shook, president of Maumee City Council, said the Rec Center land offers the potential for homes and recreation - including an ice rink.

“It would certainly serve our city to have one part of it be housing. That's one thing we're looking at,” Mr. Shook said.

Commissioner Harry Barlos, Maumee's former mayor, said selling the land may make sense. He said some of the money from the sale could be set aside to help find and build a better site for the county fair.

Mr. Barlos also said selling the Rec Center would free the county from its obligation to care for the area, which he believes isn't always done well.

“If we can't whack the weeds or shovel the snow off the walking path, how can we justify saying this is the Lucas County Recreation Center? Mr. Barlos asked. “What is the best use, and who may be the best purveyor of that site in the future?”

Figuring out what to do with the fair will be crucial to any plans at the Rec Center. In 2001, the commissioners received a report identifying four sites other than the Rec Center where the fair could be located, but no decisions about whether to move it have been made.

Adding to the confusion is a request from the Lucas County Agricultural Society, which operates the fair, to take over the Rec Center. But, unlike Maumee, the Agricultural Society wants the property given to it along with $300,000.

Dennis Lange, president of the Agricultural Society's board, said the fair organizers are willing to work with the commissioners and Maumee officials. He said the fair needs to move, but it can't leave immediately because acquiring a 100-acre site and building it could cost $20 million.

“We're looking at a three to five-year program and then we want to be out of [the Rec Center],” Mr. Lange said. “But for us to go to a new facility, we have to build a bridge in between.”

Commissioner Maggie Thurber said taking care of the county fair is important, and it's important to consider how any decisions about the Rec Center would affect those who depend on it.

“We have obligations,” she said. “We have obligations to the Agricultural Society. We have obligations to the ball teams. We have obligations to the Quarter Midget [racers]. We have obligations to individuals who have signed contracts with intent to rent some facilities.”

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak, who is heading an initiative to look at recreation countywide, said she wants to make sure people concerned about the Rec Center have a say in what happens to it.

“Before any final decisions are made, we have to give the public time for input,” she said. “This is in Maumee's backyard, so you want Maumee to be very involved in the decision.”

Somewhere in the Rec Center mix could be the proposed ice rink project. Mr. Schreiber said he wants to build an ice house with two sheets of ice.

He said ice time is so hard to come by that he thinks a rink would do well in the area. But, because there's not a lot of money to be made in the business, it would be important to get a property tax abatement from Maumee.

“I've certainly looked at this project in every way, shape, and form,” said Mr. Schreiber, whose company, Tanen Limited, builds and leases warehouses. “The Rec Center is the best situation if everyone would come together and make it happen. If the elected officials have a lukewarm attitude toward it, it just can't go forward.”

Mike Greeder, rink manager of Tam O'Shanter in Sylvania, said ice time during hockey season is so hectic that teams start practicing at 5 a.m. and sometimes go as late as 1 a.m.

He said if an ice rink were built in Maumee, hockey teams and skaters probably would flock to it.

“I [imagine some] teams would go to a closer facility if they could get better times,” Mr. Greeder said. “There would definitely be a demand. With the growth in youth hockey, they'd probably be able to start their own youth organization.”



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