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Published: Saturday, 3/1/2008

Squabble over parking escalates at Stranahan

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
AND BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

The parking lots to the west of the Stranahan Theater are barricaded for this weekend's production of The Lion King as a dispute between the trust that owns the theater and the owner of the parking lots escalates.

Ward Whiting, executive director of the Stranahan Trust, said workers for the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, which owns the parking lot land, placed the barricades yesterday afternoon, blocking access to 391 spots.

Butch Phillips, of Perrysburg, said finding a spot last night - the last one along the rear access road - took several minutes longer than usual.

"This is ridiculous," Mr. Phillips said of the packed parking lot. "I think the Masons made a big mistake in public opinion."

The scaled-back parking didn't create any traffic backups and didn't hinder most theater-goers from making curtain for last night's performance.

Mr. Whiting said there would be plenty of parking in adjacent lots for this weekend's shows because there are 833 spots on the east side of the theater in the lot controlled by the Stranahan Trust and 80 more have been opened up by moving snow out of the way.

The barricades do not affect access to the theater from Heatherdowns Boulevard or Cass Road, he added.

The east lot didn't fill up until about 15 minutes before curtain last night.

At that point, off-duty Lucas

County sheriff's deputies started directing drivers to park in the roundabouts in front of the theater, in the access roads in back of the available parking lot, and on a plowed grassy area on the edge of the parking lot parallel to Heatherdowns Boulevard.

When a theater employee scolded a patron for being late, the woman snapped back that she had to park across the street.

"This is a new pattern for a lot of people," said Liz Sudheimer, marketing director for the Stranahan, after overhearing the exchange. "So far, people have been very good about it."

The general formula for parking is that an average of three people are expected per vehicle. The Stranahan holds about 2,400 people, Mr. Whiting said.

The move to close the lot came a day after an attorney for the Scottish Rite said there were no plans to jeopardize parking during The Lion King, which Mr. Whiting said is "virtually sold-out" all weekend.

The Broadway production continues through March 30.

The disagreement between the Stranahan Trust and the Scottish Rite is basically a landlord-tenant dispute.

The Stranahan Theater is on land owned by the Scottish Rite, which is a Masonic group that wants the trust to pay to use the east parking lot, something it has not done for years.

Negotiations between the nonprofit trust that operates the theater at 4645 Heatherdowns and the Scottish Rite had continued this week after Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge James Bates on Wednesday dissolved a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the Rite from blocking the west parking lot.

Mr. Whiting said the Stranahan Trust would like to buy the land from the Scottish Rite, which no longer uses the Temple on the site and moved off the property in October, but the two sides have not been able to agree on a price.

He also noted that the trust has invested $1 million in improving the property, including all the parking lots, over the last 18 months.

Mr. Whiting said he is frustrated by the decision to barricade the parking lot. The Scottish Rite is requesting that the Stranahan Trust pay $5,000 a week to rent the parking area to the west of the theater, which he called "extreme."

"Unfortunately, they've chosen to make these demands during the biggest production in the history of our theater," he said.

Thomas Heintschel, an attorney for the Scottish Rite, said $5,000 is a fair amount based on the $3 surcharge the Stranahan charges on each ticket for maintaining its facilities and parking lot.

He said he was optimistic on Thursday that both sides would reach an agreement, but by yesterday the Scottish Rite felt it was necessary to exercise its control over the parking lot.

"We would have preferred to not do this, and I want to make this perfectly clear," he said. "They could have prevented it by payment of a fair sum of money that would have been reflected in their ticket surcharge."

Mr. Heintschel said the Scottish Rite is willing to continue negotiations with the Stranahan Trust.

Contact Rod Lockwood at:

rlockwood@theblade.com

or 419-724-6159.



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