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Published: Friday, 4/1/2005

Storm's woes put focus on new arena

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

City of Toledo officials said yesterday that the potential loss of the Toledo Storm ice hockey team underscores the need to replace the Toledo Sports Arena.

But they said the city is still a month away from getting a look at what kind of an arena the community can afford.

"We want to build an arena, but we want to make sure it's successful," said William Carroll, the city's director of economic and community development. "At this point, we don't know how we're going to finance it."

Toledo Storm majority owner Tim Gladieux, who also owns the sports arena, announced Wednesday that financial losses will force the team to cease operating after this season, unless new investors step forward.

He blamed the increased league operational costs and dwindling attendance at the 58-year-old arena.

Toledo City Council on March 22 approved a contract with Pizzuti Cos., of Columbus, to develop a sports and concert arena. Pizzuti said it would hire Minneapolis-based CSL International to conduct a feasibility study and submit a report by May 1.

The study will compare Toledo with similar-sized cities and determine the number of events that will have to be scheduled each year to support the construction and operation of an arena, Mr. Carroll said.

Mayor Jack Ford said the city has selected "a top-flight developer for a new arena, and we are working on an aggressive plan."

He said he looks forward to presenting the results of the feasibility study to the public.

Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz, chairman of council's economic development committee and Lucas County treasurer-elect, said the fact that the Storm can't make it in a "strong hockey town" like Toledo proves that a new arena is overdue.

"If there is a community consensus that we need a new arena, then the decision-makers have to make it happen, and I think there is a consensus that we need a new arena," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

He pledged to make the treasurer's office useful in creating a financing plan for an arena, similar to the role former Treasurer Ray Kest had in financing Lucas County's construction of Fifth Third Field in 2002.

Peter Gozza, president of Downtown Toledo Inc., said the Storm's announcement renews pressure on the city to resolve the arena question.

"I think the time for a new venue is now. We need to see the results of the study and accept it," Mr. Gozza said. "There's a new sense of urgency."

Five acres have been set aside in the 125-acre Marina District. However, speculation persists that a downtown site will emerge, especially if Lucas County becomes a financial backer.

Lucas County Commissioner Peter Gerken said the county would like to see a relationship with the county-owned SeaGate Centre so they don't compete with each other.

"The county is willing to discuss a partnership on the arena because, obviously, we want some connectivity between the two, at least on the management level," Mr. Gerken said.

Mr. Gladieux said yesterday he is willing to sell both the arena and the hockey team. He said he spent $25,000 a few years ago to examine the possibility of upgrading the existing arena, but found that "it didn't make sense."

"We need a new arena for our community," he said. And he said it is not realistic to expect a private owner to build and operate a new arena.

"Without some county and city involvement, I don't think it'll ever happen," Mr. Gladieux said. "I think the city has hooked up with a really good partner [in Pizzuti]. Hopefully, this time it'll work."

He said the advantage of the Marina District location is that parking revenue can be dedicated to paying off the arena. It also would be cheaper than the cost of buying property in the city's central business district.

He said the advantage of downtown is the opportunity to link with the convention center.

"If the two facilities were tied together, it would make all the sense in the world," Mr. Gladieux said.

Councilman Bob McCloskey, whose district includes East Toledo, said he spent much of yesterday trying to find investors to keep the Storm on the ice.

He said he's frustrated at continued speculation that the arena should be built on the west side of the river - an idea he said would drive up the cost and force a delay because of the need to seek voter approval of a charter waiver to allow city spending on an arena.

"We're back to square one. We need to put a plan together and move ahead," Mr. McCloskey said.

Mr. Carroll said the CSL International study will focus only on the feasibility of building a new arena in the proposed Marina District, rather than considering other sites.

"It very well might say it's perfect for the east side, or it might say it doesn't fit on the east side, or financially it won't have the cash flow," Mr. Carroll said. "We'll have to look at it and decide what do we have to do to make it have cash flow."

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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