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Published: Wednesday, 11/23/2005

Proposal to revamp Westgate submitted

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford's staff yesterday submitted a proposed development agreement for Westgate Village Shopping Center, raising hopes of new stores in place by next year's holiday shopping season.

The plans call for about $35 million worth of development in new retail stores and a Costco Wholesale Corp. anchor in place of the present 1956 strip at Central Avenue and Secor Road.

District 5 Councilman Ellen Grachek said the owner is remediating a brownfield and replacing retail structures that are obsolete.

"I am delighted they're stepping up to the plate," she said. "Costco is a sought-after retailer."

The agreement, discussed at City Council's agenda review session, would receive a first reading on Tuesday, with a public hearing to follow.

The city has budgeted $500,000 for infrastructure improvements, such as new sanitary sewer and water lines.

Elizabeth Holland, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based Abbell Credit Corp., majority owner of the 22-acre shopping parcel, said she met last week with Mayor-elect Carty Finkbeiner, who had said he was against a Costco "big box" store moving into Westgate.

She said she was pleased with the cooperation she has received from him as well as from Mr. Ford's office.

"Our goal certainly wasn't to do this over a transition period. That's the way it worked out," Ms. Holland said.

A spokesman for Mr. Finkbeiner said the incoming mayor is more comfortable with Costco following the meeting.

"I would say our opposition to Costco has lessened somewhat," said Bob Reinbolt, chief of staff for Mr. Finkbeiner. "We're told they're not a cookie cutter-type design." He said Mr. Finkbeiner is going to follow up with a tour of a Costco store.

Ms. Grachek said Costco pays good wages and already has 1,000 club members in the Toledo area who shop at a Costco club store in Michigan.

She said Abbell is interested in redeveloping the north side of Central as well.

Ms. Holland said the plans call for the Central entrance into Westgate to be moved to the east to line up with a strip of land Abbell owns across Central to improve access to the northwest quadrant with Sears Roebuck & Co. and Elder-Beerman.

The present Central entrance takes traffic into the Sears parking lot.

"It's very disjointed," Ms. Holland said. "It would be more of a street than exists now."

The developers plan to apply for a grant of up to $2 million from the Clean Ohio Fund to pay for demolition of the former Dillard's store. They also plan to apply for a tax abatement through Washington Local School District.

In other council action, legislation was submitted to:

●Endorse the proposed merger of the University of Toledo and Medical University of Ohio.

●Accept a grant of $518,000 from the Ohio Department of Transportation to buy the Olive Branch rail line in East Toledo.

The right-of-way, owned by Norfolk Southern Corp., extends from Navarre Avenue to Worthington and Front streets in the Marina District.

Bill Carroll, the city's director of economic and community development, said the 14-acre strip - along with the city's planned acquisition of the Toledo Sports Arena property - would complete the city's control of the Marina District property.

●A cash-for-jobs agreement with law firm Marshall & Melhorn LLC, which is consolidating 68 downtown jobs at Four SeaGate. The company would receive a grant under the downtown employment incentive program of $52,900 a year for nine years, equal to about one-third the company's annual income tax payment to the city.

●A proposed development agreement with Maumee/I-75 LLC to develop a 44-acre parcel owned by Pilkington North America between Miami Street and the Maumee River. The city received approval of a $3 million brownfield redevelopment grant in 2003 to clean and develop the site once used for dumping silica used in making glass.

●Enter a 50-year agreement to turn over management of Toledo Botanical Garden, 5403 Elmer Drive, to the Toledo Area Metroparks.

●Authorize an additional $50,000 to represent Councilman Bob McCloskey in a lawsuit brought against him and the city over a failed rezoning effort. The council previously approved $40,000.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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