Next year's Northwest Ohio Rib-Off will take place on the 45-acre Lucas County Fairgrounds, not in downtown Toledo where it has been for the last 22 years, United Health Services said yesterday.
The agency ended the suspense that has tinged the Toledo mayoral race by deciding to move its mouth-watering wares to the larger space in Maumee.
Patty Mazur, director of events for United Health Services, said the more spacious fairgrounds will allow rib cookers to bring in bigger trucks and have other activities.
"All the amenities are to make the event a family day because there would be enough to do besides just eating ribs," she said.
The news was greeted with disappointment by both Toledo mayoral candidates, as well as Maumee Mayor Tim Wagener.
Mr. Wagener said the people who live near the fairgrounds will not be happy.
"My first concern has to be with the citizens that live in that neighborhood and the cost to the city of Maumee in maintaining crowd control, ambulance service, and police protection," Mr. Wagener said. "We'll work as best as we can with the fair board and the promoters to make sure they have adequate security with their event."
Mayor Ford said a move to Maumee might cost the agency profits because its patrons are used to attending the Rib-Off on the riverfront.
"My sense is that they've wanted a larger venue for some time," Mr. Ford said. "There are some other forces at work, with respect to the ag board and so forth. We'll see how this plays out. I don't think the final word is on the table."
Challenger Carty Finkbeiner said he would "work feverishly" to bring the Rib-Off back downtown.
"A lot of success in things like that, frankly, is wooing, showing attentiveness to folks' needs," said Mr. Finkbeiner, a former two-term Toledo mayor.
Dave Pruss, president of the Lucas County Agricultural Society, which manages the fairgrounds, said the Rib-Off will have a renewable five-year lease.
United Health Services will pay all of its own expenses, and the fairgrounds board will be able to charge $3 per car for parking.
Ms. Mazur said the fairgrounds will allow the addition of national entertainment, a classic car show, and a softball tournament.
This year's four-day event in August drew 17 cookers and about 90,000 visitors, and was billed as the farewell to Promenade Park, she said. Next year's Rib-Off will have 20 cookers.
The health board started looking at new sites in the spring when the Ford administration announced plans for two projects that would turn Promenade Park into a construction zone - a $6 million amphitheater and conversion of the steam plant into apartments and condominiums.
Since then, the administration canceled the amphitheater project and made the former Federal Building space available to the Rib-Off.
Mr. Ford's staff this week offered the use of Levis Square, Summit Street, and North St. Clair Street to accommodate the larger rigs that national rib cookers want to use. Ms. Mazur said the space was still not convenient for large rib cookers.
Mayor Ford said the city has contributed more than $500,000 over the last 22 years to accommodate the two United Health Services events, including Taste of the Town in June.
The mayor did not participate in the meeting Monday in which the city's offer was presented, and he could only recall a single face-to-face discussion with anyone from the Rib-Off.
Mary Chris Skeldon, the mayor's public information officer, said Mr. Ford had delegated the responsibility for working with the Rib-Off to her and Tom Crothers, the mayor's chief of staff and finance director.
Ms. Mazur said the event, usually held the first weekend of August, will be moved back one week to Aug. 10-13 next year.
The nonprofit agency raises money - about $100,000 in 2003 from the Rib-Off and the Taste of the Town - for a group of social service agencies in Lucas and Ottawa counties.
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