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Published: Saturday, 4/27/2002

Chema's return sought to aid Marina District

Chema: He played a key role in the planning and construction of the downtown stadium. Chema: He played a key role in the planning and construction of the downtown stadium.
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Tom Chema is back - or soon could be.

Fresh from helping usher in a new downtown baseball stadium, the consultant from Cleveland now is being sought to help with the $191 million Marina District.

Mayor Jack Ford yesterday forwarded to Toledo City Council a proposed three-month, $45,000 contract with Mr. Chema.

Mr. Chema is a lawyer and the president of Gateway Consultants Group, Inc., specializing in what he calls “public assembly projects.” The legislation says Mr. Chema would assist in planning a “retail, commercial, and residential development on the east bank of the Maumee River between the King Bridge and the I-280 Bridge.”

City officials have proposed dividing Mr. Chema's fee among the city, Lucas County, and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Megan Vahey, Mr. Ford's public information officer, said Mr. Chema would “help manage the financial involvement of the city, the port, and the county.” She said the amount of the fee paid by each entity is in negotiation.

The plan yesterday drew support from Sandy Isenberg, president of the county commissioners.

But she said the three-member commission has not been asked to vote on anything yet.

“I think Tom and whoever else they have on this particular project will certainly get a lot of questions answered and help the city and the port and county and probably the state make some informed decisions on the role of government,” Ms. Isenberg said.

Brian Schwartz, spokesman for the port authority, said the issue has not yet come before the board.

Mr. Chema has been heralded for his role in the planning and construction of Fifth Third Field, where the Toledo Mud Hens play. Mr. Chema helped the county and the baseball organization figure out how to pay for the park and encouraged the county to buy options quickly on the land where the park likely would be built. He also was a key figure in the construction of the Jacobs Field baseball stadium in Cleveland.

“What I think the administration wants me to do is help them with their due diligence on this project,” Mr. Chema said yesterday.

The bulk of the Marina District would be privately financed through Columbus developer Frank Kass. However, the port authority would issue the bonds to construct a hockey arena. The city would spend an estimated $8 million on infrastructure and cleanup.

The county is being asked to commit $750,000 a year for 14 years to repay debt on the planned arena.

“This started out as a private development with very minor public involvement and it has changed significantly,” Ms. Isenberg said. “I look at Tom seeing what the pros and cons are of the whole project, including location.”

Mr. Chema said yesterday he understands the location has been decided.

He said the question of whether the project will produce the tax revenue needed to pay off the debt is on the table.

“There is no question but that the east side property is an immensely valuable asset to the community. There are going to be all kinds of opinions as to what that property should be,” he said.

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