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Published: Sunday, 5/15/2005

Under-the-radar businessman with high-profile ventures

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Tim Gladieux's various businesses generate $60 million annually in revenues, according to promotional material. Tim Gladieux's various businesses generate $60 million annually in revenues, according to promotional material.
BRIAN PRICE / BLADE Enlarge

To his detractors, Timothy Gladieux is the man most responsible for the outdated look of Toledo's tired Sports Arena.

To his defenders, he is a savvy businessman who has worked tirelessly to keep professional hockey in Toledo.

In recent weeks, the publicity-shy catering heir, 49, has stepped into the limelight as he has pursued strategies to fix financial problems that threatened to bench his minor league Toledo Storm hockey team next season.

He said last week that the team, an affiliate of the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings, will return to the ice when play resumes late this year, but it is unclear if it will be under Mr. Gladieux and other current owners or a different group with whom he is negotiating a possible sale.

His family's rags-to-riches rise is well known. Starting out in 1927 hawking "Buddy's Box Lunches" outside factories and construction sites, Mr. Gladieux's father, the late Virgil Gladieux, built a catering empire with more than $100 million in annual sales and operations in airports, colleges, and turnpike plazas nationwide. He sold the business to Marriott Corp in the mid-1980s.

Tim, the younger of two children, followed his father into catering. But details about the extent of his business interests are not easy to come by. It is no accident.

"I try to keep a low profile," he explained, declining a request for an extensive interview. "I try to hide under the radar and don't want to create more awareness out there. I want to maintain anonymity."

But despite that, he has been involved in high-profile ventures that make it nearly impossible to avoid publicity.

He helped secure the future of professional hockey in Toledo seven years ago by assembling a group of wealthy local investors and hockey fans to buy the Storm.

His V/Gladieux Enterprises Inc., the parent corporation, has bagged key food service contracts at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.

He has solid ties in Toledo's social and business communities, which have provided name recognition for his firm as it has successfully bid on contracts to provide food services at some of the area's most prominent venues, including Toledo Express Airport, Fifth Third Field, and the Toledo Museum of Art.

In all, the firm holds food service contracts at more than 100 locations, according to company officials.

Mr. Gladieux's various businesses, ranging from the Sports Arena to a southwest Toledo catering hall, generate $60 million annually in revenues and employ 2,000, according to promotional material.

"He's a good business person and he is community minded," said Columbus developer Frank Kass, who worked with Mr. Gladieux to put together a redevelopment proposal for the Sports Arena and the surrounding area in 2000. "I found him to be a tremendously nice guy."

Mr. Gladieux lives with wife, Laurie, and their children in upscale Ottawa Hills.

Don Smith, of Perrysburg, did business with the catering executive a few years ago when Mr. Smith bought the Gladieux-owned Brenner Marine, which is behind the Sports Arena, and Pier 75 Marina in South Toledo. "As a negotiator, he was always honest with me," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Gladieux's record in business is a mix of hits and misses, however.

He was part of an investment group that brought the successful Panera Bread chain to metro Toledo in 1999. The Maumee-based Wholesome Group opened a dozen Panera franchises in metro Toledo, Bowling Green, Findlay, Ann Arbor, and downriver Detroit, before selling last year.

But not all ventures have done as well.

Four years ago, he revealed plans to build canal-front homes on 240 acres of farmland in LaSalle Township, Michigan, next to a marina his family has owned for years on the Lake Erie waterfront at Toledo Beach. At the time, he said he hoped to bring on a partner to help with the venture by the end of 2001.

The land remains vacant. Mr. Gladieux said last week that negotiations are under way with three separate housing developers for that site. He denied a rumor that he is in talks with an operator of indoor water parks.

His involvement with an earlier partner led to embarrassment. A publicly traded Vancouver firm announced plans in the late 1990s to build a casino on the Michigan site in cooperation with a Native American tribe.

The firm named Mr. Gladieux to its board of directors and as operations vice president. It was later revealed that the firm had been ejected from the scam-ridden Vancouver stock exchange, had just $200 in annual revenues, and was primarily a stock promotion that pumped up its share price with announcements of grand projects that never materialized.

Mr. Gladieux quit the company after 10 months. "The more I learned, I realized I should never have gotten involved," he said.

Like the LaSalle Township venture, proposals for redeveloping or replacing the 58-year-old Sports Arena at its existing East Side location or an alternative site have not come to pass.

Over the past decade, Mr. Gladieux has come forward with four plans. At one point, facing a competition from a proposed - but never built - arena in suburban Rossford, Mr. Gladieux vowed to break ground within 90 days.

"It was a sincere effort," said Don Monroe, executive director of the River East Economic Revitalization Corp. "But when he started looking at events that could be booked, it just wasn't there. When push came to shove, they couldn't make the numbers work.

"Tim cares about hockey. But even if you have his money, losing $400,000 a year isn't fun."

Bob McCloskey, a Toledo councilman from the East side, had a slightly different take.

"He seems very conservative," Mr. McCloskey said.

"Six years ago, he showed us the plans for a new Sports Arena. He was excited. He seemed ready to go. When he got the financing package back, he decided he couldn't do it."

"We still don't have an arena," the councilman lamented. Momentum for an arena seems to have been lost and, given rising building material costs, the cost of a new facility would likely be significantly higher, he added.

The current 5,300-seat arena, Mr. McCloskey said, "needs a lot of work. Players don't like playing there. The place needs major renovation and upgrading. And it's not large enough."

Mr. Gladieux's most recent proposal hinged on significant public financing, a stance defended by Mr. Kass, the Columbus developer.

"Arenas are not money-making propositions today," he said, adding that most such facilities are built with a mix of public and private dollars.

Mr. Kass said local elected officials are responsible for the absence of a new arena because they have been unwilling to commit public dollars.

Although the Sports Arena was built in 1947 by Mr. Gladieux's father, Tim Gladieux denies that the facility is a cash cow. "We're not profitable every year," he said.

Lucas County records show three mortgages on the property, filed between 1998 and 2004, that total $4.3 million. They cover a $250,000 credit line at Sky Bank and loans to the parent company and hockey team from Sky and Fifth Third Bank.

Mr. Gladieux strongly denies that the building has been neglected. "We have invested a lot of money in it the last 10 to 15 years," he said, citing parking-lot resurfacing, remodeled concession areas, roof repairs, and a new dressing room for the Storm.



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