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Published: Sunday, 11/13/2005

Mayor-elect will enlist help of Toledo's business sector

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor-elect Carty Finkbeiner's vision for the future leads off with a vision of the past.

The former and future mayor said in an extended interview with The Blade on Friday that his top priority, after getting his team in place, is to juice up the private sector.

"The civic leadership of Toledo, in this man's opinion, has been invisible," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "The business community has got to play a much stronger role."

Mr. Finkbeiner, 66, of South Toledo came out of semi-retirement to win a landslide victory last week and deny Mayor Jack Ford a second term.

Looking fit and exuding the infectious energy he's known for, Mr. Finkbeiner seemed comfortable in the dusty abandoned warehouse at 10 South Superior St. that has been his headquarters since July.

Come Jan. 3, he'll be back on the 22nd floor of Government Center, surveying a political and governmental landscape that has changed since he last called the shots four years ago.

He inherits developments in the early stages at the Marina District, Southwyck Shopping Center, and Westgate Village Shopping Center.

He takes over a government that has Mr. Ford's stamp on it - Mr. Ford's appointees and a hand-in-glove relationship between the mayor and City Council as well as a planned merger of the city and Lucas County economic development functions.

Mr. Ford, through his spokesman, declined to respond to Mr. Finkbeiner's agenda.

"The voters have spoken. That is who they have chosen for the next four years," Mr. Ford's spokesman, Mary Chris Skeldon, quoted the mayor as saying.

Mr. Finkbeiner's main interest, he said, is kindling a fire under local corporate leadership to lead northwest Ohio, not just Toledo, out of the economic doldrums.

He recalled the 1980s when now-deceased corporate titans gave their vision and power to help remake the waterfront.

"Ever since that time, there has been this pullback from being publicly involved with whatever challenges the city had, the region had, to get better," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "It is probably every bit as much as the lost manufacturing jobs issue an explanation of why we have not prospered."

Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants to be a "convenor" of the private sector leadership in northwest Ohio. To do that, he said, he will try to delegate some of the routine duties to a chief of staff, likely to be Bob Reinbolt, who was director of public service in his first administration and spokesman for his campaign.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he intends to talk to other prospective developers of the Marina District, in addition to the Pizzuti Cos. of Columbus, which was brought on board by Mr. Ford as lead developer of the East Toledo project.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he is scheduled to meet next week with a prospective developer.

"I have nothing against [Pizzuti Cos. Chairman Ronald] Pizzuti, but I don't know that that relationship has been formalized to a degree that would foreclose a Frank Kass or a Larry Dillin," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Mr. Kass, a Columbus real estate developer, was Mr. Finkbeiner's choice in 2000 to develop the Marina District, but he faded out of the picture early in Mr. Ford's term.

Mr. Dillin developed Levis Commons in Perrysburg and is working on a similar plan for the Southwyck mall in South Toledo.

"You want to have a very wide search for the developer that can bring money to the table, vision to the table, and excitement," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "Frank Kass did that."

Mr. Finkbeiner also has expressed his intent to bring his own thinking to the plans for a new sports arena.

He said he wants the Chicago area-based International Facilities Group LLC, which has ownership ties to the Chicago Bulls, to consider developing a Toledo arena - on either side of the Maumee River.

Councilman Frank Szollosi said the environmental cleanup and site preparation for the Marina District over the last four years have created "a blank palette to which we can attract investors," he said.

"Certainly, the mayor-elect will have, by right, his opportunity to lend his thoughts and efforts to the development of the Marina District. It will be very important that the city, in this time of transition, does not say or do anything that spooks interested investors. It is the most exciting development on the Great Lakes. We need to keep it that way," Mr. Szollosi said.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he'd like to see Westgate developed more along the lines of Levis Commons and the proposed Southwyck plan than a Costco Wholesale Corp. "big box" store, now planned by Westgate's owner.

He said Westgate should build on its identity as an "urban village" kind of shopping center to cater to the nearby University of Toledo as well as the middle-class and affluent neighborhoods that border it.

"What Dillin has in mind at Southwyck is absolutely perfect for us to continue at Westgate," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

He said he will meet soon with Elizabeth Holland, Chicago-based owner of Westgate, to urge that she rethink her plans for a Costco deal.

Councilman Ellen Grachek, whose district includes Westgate, said the center's owners embrace the urban village concept.

"We can't focus too much on one store," she said. "There needs to be an anchor, but the plans [are] not one Costco with a sea of parking around it."

Mr. Finkbeiner declined to say whether he would retain the merger of the city's affirmative action and purchasing agencies - a change Mr. Ford initiated that gave the administration more enforcement power in living up to the city's goals for minority subcontracting.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he would not reverse the police tow lot created by Mr. Ford, despite the fact that opposition to the tow lot from private tow owners who would lose business helped fuel his campaign.

He said the city has spent $1 million setting up the tow lot in North Toledo and it would be unwise to throw away a $1 million investment. Mr. Ford has said the lot would generate revenue while simplifying the process for reclaiming towed cars.

The mayor-elect said he will address the two commitments he made during the campaign - to hire about 25 more police officers to bring the force up to 700 and to add 10 inspectors to make sure that housing, nuisance, and building standards are maintained.

He said he wants to examine the plan to allocate $273,182 to keep the University of Toledo "capacity-building program" going for a fourth year.

Mayor Ford started the program in 2002 to train minority business owners to compete for government contracts. It is paid for out of water and sewer funds, unlike community development corporations, which get their funding from the federal government's annual block grant.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants to restore funding that was lost by the community development corporations and said that might be a good source.

Councilman Michael Ashford said he is eager to see evaluations and ask questions at a hearing about the program.

"I think it's going in the right direction," he added.

The Lucas County Improvement Corp., the newly revamped city-county economic development agency, will be reviewed for its effectiveness, Mr. Finkbeiner said.

During the campaign and again on Friday, the mayor-elect said he will try to rely on his staff - including Mr. Reinbolt - to handle day-to-day details more than he did in his first two terms.

He said he won't, for example, be present for 100 percent of every weekly staff meeting, which were famous during his tenure for their length.

"But I don't have any intention of being an absentee mayor," he said. "I will want to listen to the reports that are coming back about a problem we identified three weeks ago and what have we done to correct the problem."

And he vowed to try to avoid the mistrust and political rivalry that previously characterized his relations with City Council.

"I could have extended the olive branch more frequently than I did," he said.

Council President Louis Escobar, whose term expires at the end of the year, said, "If he does that, I think it will be wonderful."

Mr. Escobar has been council president since 2003. He was on council during Mr. Finkbeiner's second term, during which, he recalled, "much of the time, council wasn't sure what was happening" in the administration.

"And when we finally got information, we had to sneak around and go to directors and commissioners and, on pain of not revealing their names, they would tell us," he said.

"It is very, very important that the mayor and council serve as checks and balances, but that doesn't mean [they have] to be adversarial."

Mr. Ashford said the mayor-elect's pledge to be more collegial is "refreshing."

Mr. Szollosi said it "would be a positive change from terms one and two to term three."

Ms. Grachek called Mr. Finkbeiner after his election and anticipates mutual mayoral-council respect and communication. "The fact of the matter is I love the city very much, as he does," Ms. Grachek said.

The mayor-elect, who was accused by his opponent of being a "divider"during the campaign, said he wants to be a uniter.

"If we're trying to get all the businessmen and labor leaders and academicians and civic leaders in the same boat, we should lead by example and bury some of the words and the actions of the past," he said.

Blade staff writer Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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