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Published: Saturday, 2/26/2005

Ford's plan for sports, music site in Toledo advances; Columbus firm gets nod for work

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mayor Jack Ford yesterday set in motion plans for design and construction of a new Toledo sports and concert arena, likely as part of the Marina District.

The mayor announced he was recommending the Pizzuti Cos. of Columbus, already on board as developer of the Marina District, as master developer of a new multiuse arena.

Mr. Ford said Pizzuti would contract for a study to be completed at the end of May, at a cost of $50,000, which would be shared with the public. The mayor said the money already is allocated in the Marina District budget. "We are looking at the East Toledo location as the preferred site," he said. "This study will confirm the best possible set of circumstances for success, including location." He said up to 400 local construction jobs could be created.

The entity running the project would be Pizzuti/Garfield Traub LLC with local firms Lathrop Co. of Maumee and SSOE Inc. of Toledo and national arena operator SMG of Philadelphia, according to legislation the mayor sent yesterday to Toledo City Council.

Steve Best, Toledo's commissioner of real estate and the Marina District project manager, said the selection of Pizzuti is the outcome of a 2003 request for proposals.

Jim Miller, an executive vice president of Pizzuti, said CSL International of Minneapolis will do the feasibility study. "It'll compare the Toledo market with how successful cities like this have developed arenas around the country," he said. "It'll be a very broad-based study."

He said study topics would include potential revenue sources, location, and seating size.

Pizzuti was selected in December to manage the Marina project. So far, the company has not revealed its vision for the 125-acre site on the east bank of the Maumee River between the Martin Luther King, Jr., and I-280 bridges.

Pizzuti has turned over a confidential summary of a market analysis to the city, and is close to filing a proposed memorandum of understanding, Mr. Miller said. Once the city and Pizzuti have an understanding on the Marina District mix of uses, probably within two weeks, Pizzuti would then have 45 days to provide conceptual drawings.

Pizzuti's projects include Miranova Place office tower in Columbus. Company owner Ron Pizzuti is part-owner of the National Hockey League Columbus Blue Jackets and helped put together the deal that built the team's Nationwide Arena.

SSOE is the creator of Alpha technology, a system that would allow a single facility to easily change uses, from concerts to sports.

Lathrop's parent company is Turner Construction Co. of New York City, one of the nation's biggest sports facility builders. Its projects include Nationwide Arena.

Garfield Traub Development of Dallas is a consultant and developer of arenas. SMG manages 69 arenas around the country.

Toledo citizens and officials have debated for years how to replace the aging, privately owned Toledo Sports Arena in East Toledo with a larger, modern facility.

In early 2003, Mr. Ford endorsed a tax on cigarettes and alcohol to help finance an arena that would cost $40 million or more. He dropped the idea six months later for lack of support.

Last year, the mayor unsuccessfully courted the University of Toledo over the idea of sharing in the construction of an arena.

Mr. Ford has emphasized that significant private investment would be necessary in any arena development, but yesterday reserved comments on how much the facility would cost and what the city's role in financing it would be.

Toledo has $7.5 million from the state.

City voters approved the Marina District site for a sports arena in a 2001 referendum. The referendum approved the spending of $8 million on infrastructure, such as streets, sewers, and parking. Mr. Best said the money could not be used in actual arena construction.

The feasibility study presents opponents of the East Toledo site with what may be their last opportunity to steer the arena downtown.

Lou Anne Mills, president of the Downtown Toledo Arena Consortium, said a new arena should be part of the Lucas County-owned SeaGate Centre.

"It's a great day for the city of Toledo," said Councilman Bob McCloskey, who represents District 3 which includes East Toledo. "It's been coming now for the last six years. Let's get it built."

Mr. Ford said he was eager to get the project done - but not by cutting corners. "The final product will be pure class," he said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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