The opening of the unnamed Toledo Mud Hens stadium is less than a year away, but changes downtown already are evident, Tom Chema, Lucas County's ballpark consultant, said yesterday during a taping of The Editors television program.
Buildings are being bought and sold, and at higher prices than before, Mr. Chema said. New restaurants are in business, and others have announced openings that coincide with that of the new stadium.
“That's the first phase of what you're going to see downtown,” Mr. Chema, of Gateway Construction Group of Cleveland, said. “We're already seeing this mimic what happened in Cleveland and Akron and Dayton, and I think we'll see this maybe at a higher level than some of those cities because there is so much property in downtown [Toledo] that is good stock and that people can rehabilitate.”
Mr. Chema and Joe Napoli, the Mud Hens' general manager, were questioned by Thomas Walton, vice president-editor of The Blade, and Marilou Johanek of The Blade editorial board. The Editors will air at 9 tonight on WGTE-TV, Channel 30, and 12:30 p.m. Sunday on WBGU-TV, Channel 27.
The ballpark has a firm construction budget, Mr. Chema said, of nearly $39.3 million because of an agreement in which the Lathrop Co., the project's general contractor, will absorb cost overruns. Several details remain. The scoreboard and concessions equipment have not been bought. The Mud Hens are negotiating with the Downtown Parking Authority for parking spots, where patrons would pay $2 each.
The team is interviewing seven national concessionaires as it decides which will offer food and drink. Mr. Chema said negotiations are under way with two potential naming rights sponsors.
The Mud Hens will be tied to the Detroit Tigers as its Triple-A affiliate at least through next year, when the contract expires. Until then, the Toledo team can't begin talks to change affiliation. But Mr. Napoli said Toledo will be attractive to major league franchises in the region, including Pittsburgh.
The Tigers have said they want to keep their Toledo ties. Meanwhile, Toledo management has “mentioned [to the Tigers] that [the Mud Hens] team has not performed very well, and that's being kind, in the last decade,” Mr. Napoli said. “So they understand where we're coming from.”
The Tigers this year have signed minor league free agents and sent them to Toledo. Randall Simon is the leading hitter in the league, Mr. Napoli said.
“Not until the season is over can we really measure the Tigers' commitment,” he said. “They want to stay in Toledo, and they want to have a winning record this year and next year, and they want to compete for a pennant. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.”