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Published: Saturday, 10/1/2005

Dismissal of lawsuit against port is upheld

Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a decision that dismissed a lawsuit against the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority for financing a $230 million shopping center project in suburban Cleveland.

The three-judge panel, in a unanimous ruling, said the port authority has authority under the state constitution to assist in a private development if the project creates jobs and doesn't use taxpayer funds.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in October, 2003, against the port authority, the mayor and council members of Westlake, Ohio, and Crocker Park, the 86-acre development of housing, offices, restaurants, and retail shops in Westlake. byWestfield America, Inc., the owner of Westfield Franklin Park in West Toledo and two malls near Crocker Park.

Westfield claimed the financing for the project using revenue bonds issued by the port authority was illegal.The port authority collected about $1 million in fees for approving the $76 million in bond financing for four parking facilities, roadways, water and sewer lines, and other infrastructure improvements at the mall.

In writing for the appellate court, Judge William Skow said the financing falls within the scope of the port authority's role in creating or preserving jobs and employment opportunities.

"We cannot conceive of an interpretation which would deny that at least one purpose of the project is to create or preserve jobs and employment opportunities and improve the economic welfare of the people of the state," Judge Skow said.

Judge Skow was joined by Judge Dennis Parish and Judge Mark Pietrykowski.

The port authority worked on behalf of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority because a member of the board had a potential conflict of interest.

"Everything the port authority board did in that project was entirely appropriate. Two courts have now ruled what the port authority did was proper. We feel that is not only a vindication, but an affirmation," said Jerry Arkebauer, the port authority's finance director.

Katy Dickey, a spokesman for Westfield America in Los Angeles, declined comment.

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