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Published: 5/8/2004

Criticism and faint praise greet Erie Street Market report

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dena and Tony Mirenda, left, eat lunch with their daughter Mary Wendt in a virtually empty Erie Stret Market. A consultant recommends a $5 million renovation to turn things around. Dena and Tony Mirenda, left, eat lunch with their daughter Mary Wendt in a virtually empty Erie Stret Market. A consultant recommends a $5 million renovation to turn things around.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

A report recommending $5 million worth of improvements to the Erie Street Market was released yesterday, but the reaction was less than enthusiastic.

The analysis and recommendations by national public market consultant Ted Spitzer, commissioned by Mayor Jack Ford at a cost of $80,000, concludes that the market, opened in 1997, was hastily and incorrectly designed.

The solution, the report says, is a "radical" redesign that would restore public interest. Mr. Spitzer, president of Market Ventures, Inc., of Portland, Me., was hired last year.

Councilman Peter Gerken, who serves on the board that oversees the city-owned market, said he urged Mr. Spitzer several times since the consultant started in August not to turn in a report the city could not afford to implement. He

said that didn't happen.

"I'm disappointed the consultant gave us options that are unattainable," Mr. Gerken said. However, he said the consultant's report has useful ideas.

Mayor Ford forwarded the report to council yesterday, but with no explicit endorsement.

He said during an April 13 interview with The Blade that the city was not in a financial position to undertake a $5 million obligation.

Mr. Spitzer recommended moving the food stalls to the Market Street end where they would be closer to the Toledo Farmers' Market. He said the design, construction, relocation, and promotional costs associated with such a move would be $4.97 million.

He said rents could be raised from $17 to $31 per square foot to finance the improvements. Assuming an annual interest rate of 5 percent, the financing could be repaid at $400,000 a year for 20 years.

"This is the approximate amount of subsidy that the city injects into Erie Street Market per year," the report stated.

Using other markets as his guide, Mr. Spitzer projected that a bakery/cafe could gross $624,000 a year, with net income of $97,229.

The consultant recommended restoring the name from 1908 - "Toledo City Market."

Mr. Spitzer said Toledo has a large enough population to support a public market.

He said the market should be populated with vendors who offer a personal and creative touch and who are "passionate" about their work.

Under Mr. Spitzer's recommendations, the market would be altered dramatically so that customers would have a convenient and natural access to the food bays.

New farmers' produce stalls would be installed along Market Street. Libbey Glass would move into what is now the Superior Antique Mall, and the mall would be moved out of the market. The former Civic Auditorium would be left open for performances.

Mr. Ford said his chief operating officer, Jay Black, Jr., will meet with market managers and stakeholders "to review the report and recommend ways to make changes whenever possible."

He called the report "an unbiased assessment" that "identifies flaws in the design and management of the market that has plagued it since its inception."

In a foretaste of a possible campaign issue for 2005, Mr. Ford implicitly directed the finger of blame at the administration that came before him, without mentioning former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner by name.

"Unfortunately, some of the advice given in this report was available when the market was initially developed, but was never followed," Mr. Ford said.

Mr. Finkbeiner, who is considering a run against Mr. Ford next year, said last night that the consultant's report "is the most ridiculous I've ever heard.

"The owners of the market, the city of Toledo, haven't put any time, attention, or leadership into the market for two long years. With the proper aggressive leadership at the market, there will be an increase in customers, enthusiasm, and dollars exchanged."

"The market worked once, and it can work again if leadership from the city is provided," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Mr. Ford cast doubt on whether relocating the Libbey Glass store is possible. He said he spoke to John Meier, chief executive officer of Libbey Glass Co., and was told Libbey doesn't want to move the glass outlet. The company has a lease on its present location until June 30, 2007, with options to renew.

A few vendors at the market said yesterday they didn't think restructuring the market would make a difference.

Paul Tunks, owner of Erie Coffee Mill & Cafe, said the redesign would be "a huge waste of taxpayers' money."

"I think the market just needs direction and a little elbow grease and promotion, and the market would be a crown jewel," Mr. Tunks said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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