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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2004

North Carolina firm will take lead in marina land cleanup

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A North Carolina investment fund that specializes in redeveloping brownfield sites and has $620 million in available capital will take legal title to the Marina District property as it moves from environmental cleanup to development over the next two years.

Cherokee Investment Partners, LLC, has been a quiet partner in the team that Mayor Jack Ford selected to develop the Marina District under the new name of “Esplanade at River East.”

But yesterday the company began asserting a more authoritative role in the project, planning the cleanup of the site in meetings with city officials, environmental consultants, and Marina District developer Larry Dillin, president of Perrysburg-based Dillin Development Corp.

Cherokee Investment is taking on the riskiest part of the project - cleanup of the hulking Acme Power Plant. For that, it will become the legal owner of the property and will have a major say in how it is developed.

“No other developer could come up with a solution for full remediation of the site,” said Steve Best, the city s real estate commissioner and Marina District project manager.

Cherokee, Dillin, and four other partners form River East Joint Venture, the group selected by Mayor Jack Ford to develop the Marina District.

“We think this is a great piece of real estate,” said Cherokee representative Brian Goray, who claimed the venture company is “the largest private equity fund that specializes in brownfields redevelopment.”

Mr. Goray said Cherokee s vision of the Marina District would include significant restaurant and retail development that would aim to serve the entire Toledo market, not just the local area.

The development agreement will spell out the responsibilities of each partner in River East Joint Ventures. The Ford administration s goal is to have that agreement submitted to city council for a vote by April 30.

The 125-acre Marina District site is bounded by the Martin Luther King, Jr., and I-280 bridges, and Front Street and the Maumee River. It includes the shuttered coal-fired power plant and some former refinery operations, as well as decades of other industrial-related land.

Cherokee would take responsibility for the cleanup, and would take title to the property as portions are completed.

The initial cleanup cost, not including the interior of the Acme Power Plant building, has been priced at $20 million. Funding for the work, which would take an estimated 18 months, would come from the state, the city, and Toledo Edison Co., the former property owner. Adding the power plant to the project will jack the price up by at least $6 million.

“Once you start breaking down the machinery it could go considerably north of that,” Mr. Best said. “They found a whole lot of additional asbestos in those turbines.” He said the uncertainty of the environmental contamination has scared off other developers.

Mr. Goray said the team has not decided whether to raze the power plant or renovate it.

City Councilman Peter Gerken said Cherokee s willingness to remediate the site was a major reason that the River East Joint Venture group was selected. Other members of the River East team are Bruce Douglas, the chief executive officer of Harvard Development Co. of Toledo; Sam Thomas of Ann Arbor, a development partner of Mr. Douglas; Jerry Goray, a Boca Raton, Fla., developer who is the father of Cherokee representative Brian Goray, and Levin Development of Troy, Mich.

Dillin will manage the design vision, draft design standards, deed restrictions, and oversee the “horizontal” development: construction of the waterfront walkway, or “esplanade,” and the roads and utilities.

City officials are confident that once the site receives a clean environmental bill of health from the state and is readied for development with roads, utilities, and public access, its attractiveness to developers will rise.

Cherokee s brochure identifies 11 brownfield projects the firm has finished, including remediation of 500 acres of landfill and 300 acres of preserved wetlands in the New Jersey Meadowlands into a mixed-use and golf course development.



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