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Published: Friday, 12/30/2005

Finkbeiner has change of position on Costco


In the same week Mayor-elect Carty Finkbeiner blasted plans to bring a Costco to Westgate Village Shopping Center, he flipped his position.

He said yesterday he now supports the $35 million project, but only if all involved agree to a visually pleasing store in a plaza with lampposts and other eye-catching amenities.

Mr. Finkbeiner stood with Lucas County Commissioners Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak in the shopping center to discuss their plans for it.

"Isn't this really what it's about - making our land more valuable tomorrow?" Mr. Finkbeiner said at a news conference at the shopping center - his second this week.

"If the owner and the developer are insistent on doing it here, then I will hold out for doing it right," he said.

Forty-nine-year-old Westgate - at the corner of Secor Road and Central Avenue - sits between the high-income neighborhoods of Ottawa Hills and Old Orchard and provides a rich commercial opportunity if redeveloped with aesthetics in mind, he said.

Along that vein, the three elected officials announced plans to spend up to $15,000 of taxpayer money through the newly reformed Lucas County Improvement Corp. to hire three urban planning "professionals," including failed mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski, to come up with development proposals.

"This is a once-in-several-generation opportunity to get this right," Ms. Wozniak said.

The urban planners would submit ideas for the best design for the flagging Westgate, which is home to smaller shops and franchises, such as Barry Bagels.

Under the plan, 20 tenants would be reduced to as few as five.

The politicians insisted the redevelopment follow the guidelines of a two-year-old plan called "Walk Westgate," which was a process to study and change zoning laws to promote pedestrian-friendly commerce.

Mr. Gerken said he liked discount wholesaler Costco Corp. because it pays higher wages than most retail stores.

According to the plans, the company would employ 188, with nonsalary hourly wages from $10.50 to $18.57. The store would create $780,000 a year in sales-tax revenue for Lucas County, generate up to $15 million in construction paychecks, and keep $2 million in Toledo that residents now spend at Costco operations in Michigan, the developer said.

This month, nearby residents squawked at the plan, saying it was developed without their input. Some residents fear a new Costco-anchored shopping center would lose its small retail flavor.

A potential sticking point is whether Costco builds a "fuel depot" for its customers. Residents do not want it, but Costco insists because rival Sam's Club off of Airport Highway has one. A gas station would require a special-use permit and could be held up by city officials.

The shopping center also might need publicly financed sewer improvements.

"We have a little bit of leverage there," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Mr. Finkbeiner, whose rival, Mayor Jack Ford, approved the Westgate project Dec. 22, had criticized the plan. Across the street, where the Sears is located, would be a better place, he said.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he understands Mr. Ford wanted a victory at the end of his administration but said the Westgate plan is flawed because it asks Costco "for nothing." The city and county are now left with the permitting process to flex their muscles, he said.

The plan was to be heard at the Jan. 12 meeting of the Toledo Plan Commission, but the developer, Elizabeth Holland, who is CEO of Abbell Credit Corp., agreed to delay until Feb. 2. She plans a community meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Covenant Presbyterian Church at 3225 Markway Road to hear from residents, she said.

Ms. Holland, who yesterday heard for the first time about the plan for more study, said the Walk Westgate project generated new zoning laws that Abbell is following.

"I think there's a disconnect here. A lot of those issues became law," said Ms. Holland, whose grandfather built Westgate. "You can't move the bar [up] in the middle of the game."

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick

at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6077.

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