Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Toledoans may vote on waiver of city charter to advance $175 million project

Toledo city council has scheduled a special session today to consider putting a waiver of city charter Section 79 on the September ballot to advance the Marina District project.

Charter Section 79 calls for a public vote before the city can build a sports arena, convention center, or similar venture, and the Marina District is to include a new arena.

If council agrees, voters could be asked to waive the Section 79 requirement for the project.

However, getting the issue filed in time could be a challenge.

Council's meeting is to begin at 4:30 p.m., when the Lucas County board of elections closes. The issue must be filed today to make a required 60-day deadline.

Clerk of Council Michael Beazley said he spoke yesterday to Antoinette Szuch, director of the elections board. Ms. Szuch said the office will remain open to allow the filing.

Ms. Szuch said Larry Loutzenhiser, the election board's deputy director, will remain late to accept it.

City officials want voters to waive Section 79 so the city can be part of the proposed Marina District, a 125-acre project that Columbus developer Frank Kass wants to build on the banks of the Maumee River in East Toledo at the site of the former Toledo Edison Acme plant.

The $175 million project is to include a sports arena, shops, apartments, and restaurants, and the city is being asked to take part by providing streets, sewers, parking decks, and other assistance for the development.

For months, Mr. Kass has been stumping his project in the city, calling for the repeal of Section 79. City officials have said they will put the matter on the ballot, but it was expected to be in November.

A recent error that resulted in the city's 0.75 percent income tax levy renewal going on the November ballot instead of September moved officials to act.

Council President Peter Ujvagi said Mayor Carty Finkbeiner asked council to consider the last-minute action in order to put the charter question before voters at a time when they have no other issues on the ballot.

“I think this is a good idea to put the issue on the ballot. The November ballot is crowded. This issue will stand alone in September,” Mr. Ujvagi said.

Renewal of the city's 0.75 percent income tax was to be on the Sept. 11 ballot, but the council clerk's office failed to file it with the board of elections 75 days in advance of the election as required by state law.

Section 79 is a charter question, and the charter requires only a 60-day filing advance for amendments, Jerry Dendinger, assistant clerk of council, said yesterday.

If council gives its approval, the question before voters won't be whether they want to repeal Section 79, as Mr. Kass has suggested, but whether they want to amend it and waive it for this sports arena project.

Mayor Finkbeiner yesterday called the Marina District “the single most important project in terms of a new investment in probably the last 50 years.”

He said he is in favor of the issue being on the September ballot because the community will have 60 days to learn about the project.

“This is a very, very important project for the community to embrace and support,” he said.

The mayor said he hopes to use the next 60 days to get out and explain the issue to the public.

Mr. Ujvagi said he hopes two months is enough time.

“It's a pretty straight forward issue,” he said, noting how the proposed development would generate jobs and promote the city's economic development.

Mr. Ujvagi said he hopes other council members favor the move. “Time will tell,” he said.

But the decision caught at least two council members by surprise.

Councilwoman Betty Shultz said she was not aware the special meeting was for a Section 79 vote, and Councilman Bob McCloskey said he was not even aware of the meeting.

Both attended a meeting late yesterday afternoon of a group of East Toledo business operators who have formed a task force to help sell the Section 79 waiver to city voters.

Mr. McCloskey, in whose district the Marina District would be located, said he has mixed emotions about a September vote, because fewer people vote in the primary. Mrs. Shultz said she is concerned that there will not be enough time to educate the public properly about the issue.

“I think they'd be rushing the issue,” said Dan Steingraber, leader of the citizens group that calls itself the Section 79 Task Force.

Mr. Steingraber told the group of about 25 people that the mayor is not happy with their organization because Mr. Finkbeiner wanted the campaign to be run from his office.

The mayor said he believes the group needs to be more expansive than just East Toledoans, and he will be meeting with community leaders next week to form a larger umbrella group from all sectors of the community to work on the campaign.

Mr. Steingraber's group has received donations of $5,000 from Mr. Kass and $1,000 from Tim Gladieux, owner of the Toledo Sports Arena and the Toledo Storm hockey team that plays there. The Toledo Sports Arena would be demolished as part of the Marina District project.

Section 79 was added to the city charter in 1973, due in part to the efforts of Mr. Gladieux's late father, Virgil, who built the sports arena.

The Affiliated League for Equal Representation and Taxation Alliance, a taxpayer group opposed to then-Mayor Harry Kessler's plan to build a $6.2 million convention center, lobbied for Section 79.

Virgil Gladieux financed the campaign because he did not want to see the city produce a competitor. His son, Tim, would have a stake in the new arena and has said he wants to see Section 79 repealed.

Voters last had a chance to repeal Section 79 in 1985, but decided to keep it.

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