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Published: 7/1/2003

Ballpark area is back in play for sports arena site

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With the city's plans for a new East Toledo sports arena uncertain, Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest has renewed and polished up his plan for a downtown arena that would pay for itself.

Under Mr. Kest's plan, a new sports arena of up to 14,000 seats could be built next to Fifth Third Field and connected to SeaGate Centre by a raised walkway.

Mr. Kest cited the success of Fifth Third Field, paid for in part by his office's purchase of $6 million in revenue bonds, as evidence that his proposal has credibility.

The facility would be financed largely by a surcharge on tickets, averaging $2.

The county treasurer is expected to meet this morning with the executive board of Downtown Toledo, Inc., a business owners association, in hopes of generating momentum.

Harry Barlos, president of the Lucas County commissioners, said he's interested in Mr. Kest's proposal, but he wants to run the numbers through the county's budget office.

“If Ray's package shows we can build it without a tax increase and the bonds can be repaid [by participants and arena users], then we have to look at it because it actually enhances a substantial investment the county has already made with SeaGate and Fifth Third Field,” Mr. Barlos said.

In March, Mr. Barlos refused to consider a county role in constructing a sports arena, saying it was the city's project. Yesterday, he said he doesn't know what the city is doing.

The official city plans call for a new arena as part of the proposed $191 million Marina District on the east bank of the Maumee River. The arena would be financed by a new tax on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages to go before voters. However, Mayor Jack Ford has not advanced the tax issue in recent months.

Mr. Ford said yesterday that he is still pursuing the plan for an East Toledo arena with a request for proposals and in meetings with potential developers. The city recently approved a $50,000 contract with Cleveland arena consultant Tom Chema to recruit developers for the Marina District.

“The East Toledo site is still where I'm focused once we can get the right development package there,” Mr. Ford said. “But as I've said before, when it's appropriate for me to do so, I will listen to any good ideas. If [Mr. Kest's proposal] makes sense and it makes things happen, why would I ever be against it?”

He has not seen the proposal, and Mr. Kest said he has not tried to call the mayor.

Although the two were rivals for the mayor's job in 2001, Mr. Kest said yesterday he is not laying the groundwork for a comeback attempt.

“I'm absolutely not going to be a candidate for the mayor's office,” Mr. Kest said. “I just want to see progress for the city, and I'd hate for us to make a huge mistake.”

Mr. Kest said he researched four sites in the greater downtown area, including the East Toledo location, and settled on the block bounded by St. Clair, Washington, and Monroe streets and overlapping Summit Street. Summit traffic would pass below the structure.

Under Mr. Kest's plan, a new arena would seat as many as 14,000 people and could count on as many as 200 events a year. Mr. Kest said his proposal would connect with new exhibit space in the convention center by an elevated walkway.

He contended a new facility would attract higher quality shows to Toledo and would attract spectators who are put off by the drab condition of the Toledo Sports Arena. The current Sports Arena was built in 1947 and seats up to 7,500.

He estimated the cost at $46 million in construction plus $5 million for land acquisition and business relocation.

The sources of revenue would be:

w $5 million in naming rights.

w $7.5 million from the state of Ohio.

w $7.5 million in “asset-backed bonds” supported by income from rental of the facility, concessions, and sales of suites and club seats.

w $31 million in revenue bonds backed by the income from per-ticket fees.

Mr. Kest said the bonds would be a good investment because the interest rate would be about 3 percent.

He said the ill-fated Rossford amphitheater and arena project collapsed because the revenue from the project could not support the 9.5 percent interest rate then in place.

An average ticket fee of $2 would generate $1.45 million a year, assuming at least 145 events a year - more than enough to make at least the interest payments, he said.

If the ticket fees were $2.50 and the arena hosted a more optimistic 200 events, the annual income would be $2.5 million.

As possible events, Mr. Kest includes hockey, football, soccer, basketball, concerts, trade shows, tournaments, and other activities.



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