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Published: Thursday, 3/13/2003

Kest wants Lucas County to take over arena project

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest is calling for the county to take over the arena project and build it in downtown Toledo.

The proposal, spelled out in a letter to the three county commissioners, recommended using the county's bonding authority and a surcharge on tickets to pay off the cost of the arena.

But two members of the board of county commissioners said they will not entertain any county oversight of the arena as long as it is under consideration by the city.

Under Mr. Kest's plan, a new arena would seat between 12,000 and 13,500 people. It would be in the central business district, attached to SeaGate Centre, possibly on the block between Fifth Third Field and Summit Street. It would be financed by his office's ability to buy bonds at an interest rate below market levels, and by a surcharge on tickets, such as $3 on a $40 concert ticket.

“I know the commissioners have an interest in the convention center. I'm suggesting this should be a county project,” Mr. Kest said.

Mr. Kest, who lost a race for mayor to Jack Ford two years ago, said he is not trying to compete with Mr. Ford and said he has no interest in running for mayor again.

“I have no agenda in the mayor's office. I have been a supporter of the Marina District, but I see it going nowhere,” Mr. Kest said.

The proposed Marina District in East Toledo is where the Ford administration wants to build a new arena. The 125-acre project is planned to include entertainment, commercial, residential, and office developments. The city expects to start an $18.5 million cleanup effort soon. Toledo's current sports arena, built more than 50 years ago, holds 5,500 people and is privately owned.

Mayor Ford has backed a recommendation by Cleveland arena consultant Tom Chema to pay for a new 8,500-seat arena with revenue from a “sin” tax on beer and cigarettes.

Such a tax would have to be put on the ballot by the county commissioners, who said they have not yet been asked to do so.

Harry Barlos, the president of the county commissioners, and Commissioner Maggie Thurber said it would be inappropriate for the county to take over the city's project.

Both added the county may have to replace the crowded county jail, and they would not want the county's bonding authority to be tied up in an arena.

Mr. Barlos added that the county does not have the authority to impose a user fee on tickets. “If you were to jump into the future and the city is no longer marketing the [Marina District location], at that point the letter becomes a viable alternative,” Mr. Barlos said. “At this point, the county is still not involved,” Mr. Barlos added.

Ms. Thurber said that the city has the right to continue working on a solution. “It would be inappropriate for the county to take over [the city's] idea and say it's a bad idea and do it differently,” Ms. Thurber said. “We have to respect what the voters of Toledo have agreed to do.”

Voters decided overwhelmingly in a 2001 election to waive a city charter prohibition on spending city money on an arena and to allow the expenditure of $8 million on an arena in the Marina District.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak was unavailable for comment.

Mr. Kest said he researched other cities, including Grand Rapids, Mich., and Fort Wayne, Ind., before making his proposal.

He said with 200 event bookings a year and an average of 9,000 attending each event, an average surcharge of $2 would generate $3.6 million a year.

In addition to the $30 million in construction funds such revenue would generate, other bonds and operating revenue could finance another $25 million in construction costs, he said.

Jay Black, Jr., the mayor's chief operating officer, said he had not seen Mr. Kest's detailed proposal, but said he had written a letter and made a phone call in response to an earlier offer by Mr. Kest to propose how to finance an arena. He said he received no response.



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