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Published: Friday, 6/3/2005

Arena study further divides East Toledo, downtown advocates

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

East Toledo officials reacted with dismay yesterday to a city-funded study supporting downtown as the best location for a new arena.

Advocates of the central business district responded positively, but cautiously, to the potential of an arena being combined with the convention center and baseball stadium.

Mayor Jack Ford and city Development Director Bill Carroll yesterday unveiled the long-awaited study from the city's selected arena developer, Pizzuti Cos.

The study said a concert and sports arena of 10,000 or more seats would succeed either in the proposed Marina District on the east bank of the Maumee River or downtown near the SeaGate Centre and Fifth Third Field.

But the study emphasized a downtown arena would make more money, make use of existing available parking, and complement the business development already under way near Fifth Third Field.

Pizzuti Cos. expressed concern that an enclosed building with a large expanse of surface parking is not the ideal use of the riverfront in the Marina District.

Mr. Ford has not endorsed the study's conclusions, nor has there been any proposal for financing a potential $60 million construction project. The mayor said public meetings will be held to discuss the report, with the first one tentatively set for June 15.

Dan Steingraber, chairman of River East Associates, a non-profit economic development agency that serves East Toledo, said he thinks "the city just paid someone $70,000 to put the arena downtown."

Councilman Bob McCloskey, who represents East Toledo and is now running for an at-large seat on City Council, said the outcome was predictable. He claimed Mr. Carroll and others are determined to put the arena downtown to shift the financing burden to Lucas County and to help downtown businesses.

He said the arena would undermine the Docks restaurant complex in International Park, across Main Street from the existing sports arena and the planned Marina District site.

"What about the millions of dollars that's been spent on The Docks? What about the millions of dollars that's been spent on the Marina District?" Mr. McCloskey said. "They want the county's involvement and the county needs to bail out the convention center."

Bruce Rumpf, a downtown businessman who has pushed for a downtown location for the arena, said he wants the city to move forward with a Marina District plan so East Toledo can see that the project will succeed without the arena.

Mr. Rumpf said a destination retailer such as Bass Pro Shops Inc. would be a better fit for the Marina District and would draw people year-round. He claimed Bass Pro is a business that would do for the Marina District what Cabela's outdoors superstore has done for commercial growth in Dundee, Mich.

"Dundee's coffers are full of tax dollars because of Cabela's," Mr. Rumpf said, suggesting the former Acme power plant as a unique building for such a store.

Mr. Carroll has confirmed that the city is in discussions with a large destination retailer for the north end of the Marina District property. The attraction for an outdoors retailer would be an opportunity to be located directly on the Maumee River to connect with a marina and to hold demonstrations, he said.

One who didn't conceal his glee at the study's support for a downtown site was Jim Donnelly, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau and the SeaGate Convention Centre.

"I read it, reread it, [and] jumped up and down for joy," he said of the study. "It is the right decision. Absolutely, positively. I don't think it should be any other place than right here adjacent to us because of the synergy that develops between all three projects" - the convention center, the ballfield, and a new arena.

Alva Caple, owner of Durty Bird restaurant and tavern, 2 South St. Clair, said the arena would help keep struggling businesses in the Warehouse District going when the baseball stadium is not in use.

"It would tie everything hand in hand and keep downtown thriving in the direction it's already moving," he said.

Mark V'Soske, president of the Greater Toledo Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber doesn't have a position on the location of a new arena.

"We need to just move forward on getting it done," Mr. V'Soske said. "There's pros and cons of both."

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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